Project Based Learning, preparing students for the work force of the future

It is the end of the term, teachers are tired, students are thinking about holidays and you have 150 year 10 students to ‘entertain’ for two days. What do you do?

Instead of watching videos passively, we chose to engage the students in collaborative projects. In doing so, we were thinking about the type of workforce that these students would be entering and what skill set would be needed beyond the confines of the school walls.

According to Foundation for Young Australian’s report The New Work Smarts, in the future we will spend 12 hours per week on problem solving; 15 hours per week thinking critically; and over 30 hours communicating and engaging with other people. So the concept of working in teams to solve and apply learning to problems ticks many boxes. Additionally, this aligns well with project based learning (PBL).

PBL connects academic situations and knowledge to real world problems. Click To Tweet

PBL is more than just setting a project at the end of a unit, which can often just be an academic regurgitation of memorised content. PBL connects academic situations and knowledge to real world problems. Students still need to understand the content to be able to apply it to a problem, but the application of knowledge in a problem solving environment provides opportunities for higher level thinking and collaboration leading to a tangible outcome.

The Plan

The students were given the choice of three real life problems to solve. They were required to develop a video pitch explaining their solution based on research.

As teachers we were excited about the possibilities, but semi-cautious about how well it would work, we planned an introduction session that carefully scaffolded the processes and requirements.

All the mechanics of the days were web based and managed through a website we created for the projects.

All group work was done collaboratively via GSuite, enabling students to work together even if they were in different locations around the school. To enable students to post questions and get direction from teachers working as mentors (or from each other) you could use Google Hangouts Chat or Microsoft Teams.  Being able to create a fluid Q&A environment that provided ‘right time’ direction and assistance, rather than at the end of a lesson or when the need has passed, proved to be most successful.

The Outcomes

We started the first day with a short input session from teachers and then let the students go. We were amazed at the engagement and enthusiasm. The depth of discussion was very impressive and the groups quickly adapted to the challenge by allocating roles and formulating ideas. One student said that she missed her bus stop on the way home as she was thinking about possible solutions!

One team used the large whiteboard walls in classrooms to re-design a school timetable, taking into account staffing issues, EB agreements, instruction time and curriculum requirements.

Another team interviewed key staff members to find out the power consumption of the school and designed a solar array to cover the average daily consumption.

One team discussed educational theory and pedagogical change that reflected the changing skill base and digital ecosystem that the students existed in.

These are 15/16 year old students!

I have been amazed at the engagement and enthusiasm. Some comments from the students really reflected the success of the days.

  • ‘The freedom of being able to choose what you want to focus your project on and being able to come up with our own ideas’
  • ‘The freedom of choice, such as choosing how we work and being able to move around where we want and letting us go at our own pace.’
  • ‘I thought this was the most enjoyable task that I have done all year and I think that it should be continued into the future because it is fun and enjoyable and a change from the usual type of assignments that students are given.’
  • ‘It feels a bit weird being out of the regular structure of lessons and the day at first, but once you get used to it you get a lot more things done.’
  • ‘The freedom, the fact that we had to be independent.’
  • ‘I was out on the oval today and there were boys who don’t particularly like school and classes discussing their projects with each other. It was awesome.’
  • ‘I really liked how open the environment was so we could work wherever we wanted and how there was no specific way to presenting the pitch and what exactly it is we had to pitch – how we were given options.’
  • ‘I also liked how the teachers were there with available guidance and how the students could eat freely’

How can you explore and utilise project based learning in your school to reinforce what has been taught in the classroom and help develop a skillset that can be applied to the future workplace?

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