In my last post, I focused on how I prepare unit studies in our homeschool. I wrote very briefly about using projects at the end of the unit for evaluation. In this post, I’d like to explain further why I believe project-based learning is important and how to incorporate projects into your unit studies (or into any type of schooling style.)
Just what is project-based learning?
Quite simply, it’s a learning method in which your children dive into a subject and complete a project to show what they know. Projects can really be anything!
- story/report/book report/article/newsletter
- art/craft/cooking/other handicraft
Why add projects to your homeschool?
- They encourage independent learning.
- They require creative and critical thinking.
- They require writing and research.
- They allow for choices.
- They allow for meaningful, hands-on experiences.
- They allow for varied learning styles to be met.
- They encourage real learning about a subject that isn’t simply memorized for a test and then forgotten.
I feel like projects have helped my children understand and retain information greatly – as compared to simply learning about a topic and regurgitating the info back to me on a test. Why? Because they become part of the learning through their projects! In order to complete the project, they have to “know their stuff” about the topic AND put it together in an organized, thoughtful, expressive way. Besides this, we expect our children to present their projects – to further embed the learning and to become comfortable with verbalizing themselves. Believe me, just because they can put together a super project, doesn’t mean they can automatically speak about it. This is a separate skill to be learned, but just as important.
How do I add projects to our learning?
By the time my children are seven, they’re introduced to the world of projects. I always complete the first projects alongside them. Once I see they’re capable of completing a thorough project without my help, I’ll be available as a resource for questions or ideas. By the time they’re in 5th grade (hopefully earlier), they’re expected to complete projects on their own with very little direction from me.
If you’re starting projects when your children are older, I suggest still working along side them at first and giving very clear expectations for final outcomes until they are able to complete a thorough project on their own.
When I say give very clear expectations, this is a little misleading. I typically give my children expectations that are open-ended. In other words, “I expect your diorama to show at least five important aspects of Native American life. I also expect that all surfaces with be covered and several 3-D models will be present.” This gives them a direction without me telling them exactly what to include and how to include it.
Most of the time, projects are interjected into our unit studies. A typical unit plan might be to learn about a topic together over the course of a week or more (depending on the subject.) At the end of the unit, I decide how many projects that unit warrants. For instance, if the unit was really long, I’ll expect five or more projects to be completed. If the unit was really short, one might be enough. They have a length of time to complete the projects, we set a date for presentations and the presentations become the finale of the unit.
I will usually come up with a list of several project choices from which my children can choose. I try to vary the learning styles required in the project list so my son who doesn’t prefer too much writing can find projects to suit his needs. Here’s a sample list of project choices I might offer if I expect them to complete THREE projects:
- file folder report
- skit with siblings
- scrapbook page
- newspaper article
In this list, all will require some reading, research and writing, but can you see how they allow for a variety of learning styles – writing, speaking, organizing, crafting, acting, etc?
We have also completed language arts projects such as bound poetry books and math projects such as grocery story price comparison charts. Remember that most any project is going to involve reading, research and writing – so language arts is always included!
As for grading, well, we don’t give many grades around here. We do talk about what was really good about the projects and what could be improved next time. Through my gentle direction, my children have quickly learned how to critique their work. (If not handled with care and lots of encouragement, this could turn into self-bashing. Don’t let them do that to themselves!)
If I’ve noticed that one of my children really needs to improve a certain part of their projects, I will simply include that more specifically in my instructions to them next time around. For example, one of my children was not very thorough in his/her research and writing during our past unit. When the next project time rolls around, I’ll be sure he/she chooses a project with plenty of writing and make it very clear how much of each I expect. You see, project time allows for choices, but mom’s still the boss!
Past Unit Studies with Project-Based Learning
- Presidents of the United States
- US Geography
- Slavery and Civil War
- Westward Expansion
- American Revolution
- Colonial Life
- Native Americans
- Kentucky History
- Middle Ages
- Human Body
Project-Based Learning: The Series
Don’t miss this 10-part series of practical ideas for incorporating project-based learning into your homeschool!
Tell me about your PBL successes!
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