How many times have we blamed children for yawning at the back of a classroom while teachers talk about historical events on the board? The answer is quite many, but is it really the fault of our students? Even the brightest minds wander off because of the nonstop talk and rote memorization sometimes.
Too often, our students are worn out by the overwhelming amount of information given by teachers, remaining the same year after year. As a result, traditional teaching has little application for students when they venture out into the world.
As an alternative to this pedagogy, project-based learning (PBL) helps bring students’ learning to life and ignites their intellectual curiosity.
According to Smith (2018), when students are curious, they will learn actively and acquire knowledge, skills, and dispositions naturally. That’s what PBL roots from.
Benefits of PBL – PBL at IEG Global
Can PBL make learning fun for our students? The answer is YES.
Image: A day in IEG Science class
Since PBL taps into students’ individual interests, students are more motivated to put effort into their projects. This goes back to our article about 5C’s of intrinsic motivation -- challenge, competence, control, curiosity, and complex. Project-based learning checks all boxes when it comes to building intrinsic motivation for our students. In PBL programs, students control what and how they learn.
They have to deal with reality, produce actual products, then get authentic feedback. The learning process is continuous and effective.
As a result, many PBL students felt their academic work has some real-life implications.
A Snapshot of PBL in reality
Let’s take the example of IEG Global Earth Science class, where teachers utilize this project-based teaching format, despite some limitations. In this science course, third and fourth graders learn about natural resources through a series of group exercises.
At the beginning of the class, the teacher introduces the core question: What are natural resources and how can we preserve these resources? The concept of protecting the Earth through renewable energy (RE) is revealed to the students, making way for them to start building RE devices on their own. Students are then split into groups and each week, they test different rotating structures for their windmill (pinwheel, horizontal or vertical), facilitated by the teacher. At the mid-point of the course, these groups will design a windmill and present it on the result. Most of them find these projects fun and engaging, which helps them learn better!
Challenges to Apply PBL in Vietnam
PBL looks like a fantastic pedagogical method, so why has it not spread widely in Vietnam?
1. Challenge for Teachers: Given that PBL is a fairly novel teaching practice many teacher PD programs have not yet included project training into the curriculum. For example, rather than preparing the lecture before class based on their subjects, teachers would need to research their knowledge in related fields. As this approach taps into students’ curiosities, these teachers might have to answer hundreds of questions from their eager students in all phases of PBL.
2. Challenge for School Administration: Most schools still have traditional seating where tables and chairs are fixed – making it inconvenient for a roundtable discussion. Acknowledging this difficulty, the school administration finds it tough to apply PBL widely.
3. Challenge for Students: In Vietnam, traditional teaching has taken place in most schools for generations without format changes. As a result, students might get confused when being given the agency to take charge of their own learning process. They might not know where to start, what questions to ask, and where to find the necessary information to produce a meaningful project.
In these cases, we need to take baby steps, starting with teachers giving students some general topics to choose from. When students are more familiar with the concept, they can venture into their own creative ideas to fully adopt PBL.