True project-based learning (PBL) works because it engages students in solving real-world problems that matter to them. This quality of authenticity motivates students to learn because the solutions they devise will ultimately make a positive impact. When students recognize that they can solve problems in the world, they become empowered.
Different Ways to Achieve Authenticity
So what does it take for a project to be authentic? In this Edutopia blog post, John Larmer, Editor in Chief of the Buck Institute for Education (BIE), describes four ways a project can be authentic:
1. The project meets a real need in the world beyond the classroom, or the products that students create are used by real people.
2. The project focuses on a problem, issue, or topic that is relevant to students’ lives—the more directly, the better—or on a problem or issue that is actually being faced by adults in the world students will soon enter.
3. The project sets up a scenario or simulation that is realistic, even if it is fictitious.
4. The project involves tools, tasks, or processes used by adults in real settings and by professionals in the workplace.
Visit this link for helpful videos illustrating each way of approaching authenticity.
To get students to buy into a project, they first need to be excited about it. This article in Getting Smart provides helpful guidance on how to get students on board with your project.
Connecting with Experts
A hallmark of PBL is the culminating event—a public presentation of student works to experts and the community. Presenting to experts raises the bar for students—and motivates them to excel.
More than just being an audience, subject matter experts can provide mentorship for students. Experts often provide students with the first opportunity to test their idea outside the classroom. In these ways, experts bring a critical element of authenticity to students’ efforts.
So how do you find suitable experts for your project? This Edutopia article provides some helpful recommendations for how to find them in your community.
Or, try a different approach: Design your project around an expert you’ve already identified. This article describes how. It ends with a suggestion that completely invites authenticity—ask students to help identify partners! They might have as much if not more success than adults.
IDEAS Empowered by Youth®
Are you ready to bring project-based learning to young people? Dignity of Children now offers IDEAS Empowered by Youth® — four project-based learning modules that will spark curiosity and learning in any young person.
With modules that invite young people to creatively solve problems–Climate Change and Sustainability, Health and Wellness, Financial Literacy, and Entrepreneurship — IDEAS Empowered by Youth® brings authenticity in learning to students from the 4th grade and up.
Call us at (646) 639-7711 for more information and to schedule your training session today!