A veteran teacher explains the relationship between Project Based Learning and controlled chaos in the classroom

If someone walked into my sophomore English classroom the week before spring break, they might have questioned my classroom management. They would have seen students sitting in groups, talking and gesticulating wildly, coming and going with little more than a word to myself or another student and using their cell phones with little regard for any of the other classroom activity.

Project Based Learning and Controlled Chaos

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Within this seeming chaos, there was order and quite a lot of productive work happening. After writing found poetry using Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir “Night,” I told my students their work was so good they needed to share it and suggested the class make an ebook or website. They wanted to do both, so they are.

I organized teams based on students’ talents and interests, and the work began. Some are writing and editing content, others are creating art content using Photoshop, some are responsible for recording audio and video performances of the poems, while yet another group is uploading and managing web content. The group with their cell phones is documenting the process as the initial stages of their publicity campaign.

This is project based learning, and it is all the buzz in education.

Edutopia, a leading education blog, describes project based learning, or PBL, as “a dynamic approach to teaching in which students explore real-world problems and challenges,” while Wikipedia notes PBL as an “alternative to paper-based, rote memorization, teacher-led classrooms.”

In short, PBL is learning by doing, an idea championed by such education hard-hitters as Socrates and John Dewey.

The PBL environment changes the traditional roles of students and teachers and puts learners in the driver’s seat.

Heidi Bullock, a Brevard High teacher, described the role of the PBL teacher as someone who “facilitates the learning process by providing or helping acquire resources, monitoring group processes, and coaching students in the metacognitive processes (problem solving, collaboration, communication, reflection, self-evaluation) necessary fo

Project Based Learning and Controlled Chaos

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r that group to complete its project or solve its problem.”

“Students within the group,” Bullock said, “determine how to divide the task of producing/solving equitably among themselves, negotiate with the teacher how their work should be assessed, establish their own benchmarks for measuring progress and the timetable for reaching those benchmarks, and contact the real-world experts to critique their final product/project.”

Real growth occurs when students take those kind of leadership roles, and teachers are definitely seeing it in their students.

“Students are not told exactly what to do or how to do it. This develops both independence and creativity,” said Jennifer Williams, teacher and founder of the successful T.I.M.E. science program at BHS. “They have to persist and problem solve to continue moving forward as they seek to complete their projects. They learn information, techniques and skills that arise naturally because they are needed at the time.”

Students learn more than specific skills in the PBL environment.

“Students gain a love for their work as they perfect it and present it to authentic audiences as a form of evaluation. They become more confident and mature,” Williams said.

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Project Based Learning and Controlled Chaos

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