Background on Project-Based Learning

A patient goes to the doctor with a headache. The doctor based on his years of experience and what he studied in medical school, arrives at a solution. Considering the human body is a complex machine, Is diagnosing the problem as easy as it sounds? The fact is, All the answers to health issues & complications cannot be contained in the medical books. 

Because the approach of studying concepts and analyzing case studies was not working with Doctors, Howard Barrows ( Physician and a Medical educator) developed a technique for teaching where medical students should be able to integrate, use, reuse knowledge  in the context of patients’ problems; the symptoms, signs, laboratory data and course of illness. Barrows designed a series of problems. No other information was given. The students had to research a situation, read through materials, develop trigger questions, ideate and arrive at solutions. This is technique is what we know popularly as Problem Based Learning or PBL

 If reading from a book and regurgitating it when a problem arises in our human body does not work, then how can this method of learning work in other realms of education.  

Harrows created a system of teaching where Doctors could apply education that they acquired in a clinical setup. With “The Real School Of Montessori” this is our approach to PBL.

The Real School Of Montessori: Real-life Problems

We create an active learning and engaging environment where students are given REAL LIFE PROBLEMS. Milk Overflowing, a common kitchen problem another common problem of misplacing a key. Here are issues that we go through in our everyday life. There may be a million solutions to it. Our mentors train them to identify what they need to learn to solve those problems and arrive at a practical solution. Once students master the strategy to solve problems, then Problem Solving no longer remains a mindset but an ability that is needed for every phase of their life. And one that is essential to shape them into confident and independent individuals. The Real School Of Montessori Projects: The Project Statement is the backbone of the Project 

The effectiveness of PBL lies in defining the Project statement. The primary reason for a PBL to not have the intended result is a weak Project Statement.  We have a few examples of what a Project Statement is not. That is followed by how we design our Project Statement for our The Real School Of Montessori Projects. 

❌ A Project statement does not look for a scientific answer 

Difference between  

What is Newton’s 2nd law of motion?  And…

Solve the problem of airplane accidents using Newton’s 2nd Law of motion is HUGE.

Defining the topic will mean giving a technical answer. Here is what is wrong with this approach. The child will regurgitate information that he has learned by way of books and lectures. The answer may be a word for word or maybe in his own words. The answer may be right or maybe wrong. But in both these cases, one thing is for sure. He does not have a thorough understanding of the concept.

Also Read: Are we setting up students for failure?

✔️Project Statement should have the ability to take roots and conceptualize in the mind of the learner

What happens when we ask him to study the basics of newton’s law in context with aerodynamics? The conceptualizing takes place in the mind of the student. He not only needs to understand the meaning but has a solution for reducing the risk of plane accidents

❌A Project Statement: should not create a roadblock for learning 

“Demonstrate Newton’s 2nd law using a space shuttle and an airplane.”

This is a very confusing Project statement. If the problem statement is not concise or clear, there may be a heavy dependence on the facilitator in terms of explaining the problem,  then the very fundamental of PBL learning approach fails. The role of a facilitator is very important in a PBL structure. A facilitator creates an environment which allows the student to think critically, to look for risks, to understand the challenges and independently solve problems. And he can only do that if the problem statement is easy to understand.

✔️Project Statement is the entire PBL module

With the Project Statement “ Solve the problem of airplane accidents ”, a student will learn about several concepts including how a space shuttle is different from an airplane. But mentioning Space shuttle in the problem statement will derail the entire PBL exercise. Project Statement is the first step towards creating an environment for learning. An ideal problem Statement sets the parameter, the boundaries and the context for the project. 

❌A Problem Statement should not give out the solution

“Eliminating airplane accidents by designing detachable capsules that ejects during emergencies ”

If such is the Problem Statement, you are curbing the student’s imagination. 

✔️An effective Project Statement leaves just the right information out

The student has to go through the entire cycle of discovery to come to the optimal solution. There may be a better solution than using light beams. And you would never know that until you let the child explore it for himself. While designing User Interface, users are provided with only information that is required at that moment. This is called Progressive Disclosure. For ex : Certain website or messaging apps truncate old messages or long posts. This strategy to reduce UI clutter is to help users maintain their attention to the task in hand. This is the same principle that is followed while designing the Problem Statement. The essence of PBL is in moving from simple to complex from abstract to specific with only essential information. As the student progresses he is under control of what he needs and how much he needs.

❌Problem statement should not be irrelevant or not worthy of a challenge

A problem statement which asks students to create a social media platform is an example of a problem that is not challenging enough. 

✔️Problem Statement should be large enough for the student to challenge thought

Idea for an outdoor playground that does not require too much space yet are large enough will be more relevant for a young child. Or it can something on the lines of how to ensure proper drainage during floods. These are problems that is an area of concern from the student’s everyday life..Something they care about. The more they relate to the problem the more they will be involved in the project. 

❌Project Statement should not curb the natural way a student learns

A Project Statement on how to solve the illiteracy problem in India may have a direct solution. An important point to be noted here is that there is nothing wrong with illiteracy as a topic for PBL in itself. But it is the way the Project statement is designed around the topic of Illiteracy is the difference between make or break.

✔️Project statement should be designed to provide an elucidating experience for the learner

It should not just trigger motivation and learning. It should provide a workspace for students to apply their knowledge. When students are posed with authentic real-life problems, they have an open playground to apply what they learn and change how millions of people live. Here is where they can make mistakes and learn from them. Here is where students are required to think through information they already knew and to find additional information, interpret pre-existing knowledge in light of newly discovered knowledge. There learning is not dictated by a particular outcome that is specified in the textbook. That is the reason, the whole experience that a learner goes through in a PBL process is scared and learning in itself.

Learning Outcome  

With the Precision of Individualized Mentoring combined with an effective PBL Pedagogy, the student learns how to deal critically with some issues that are larger than life. Here are some specific learning outcomes. 

  1. Scaffolded thinking resulting in a stronger understanding. 
  2. Student Learns to make connections between varied concepts and ideas.
  3. The art of getting the right information that is required to get to the solution.
  4. Holistic System Thinking approach to solving problems.
  5. Enhanced Communication skills
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Shilpa is a professional web content writer and is in deep love with travelling. She completed her mass communication degree and is now dedicatedly playing with words to guide her readers to get the best for themselves. Developing educational content for UPSC, IELTS aspirants from breakthrough research work is her forte. Strongly driven by her zodiac sign Sagittarius, Shilpa loves to live her life on her own notes and completely agrees with the idea of ‘live and let live. Apart from writing and travelling, most of the time she can be seen in the avatar of 'hooman' mom to her pets and street dogs or else you can also catch her wearing the toque blanche and creating magic in the kitchen on weekends.

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