Learning and Mathematics

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Project-Based Learning - Blumenfeld, P., Soloway, E., Marx, R., Krajcik, J., Guzdial, M., & Palincsar, A. (1991)

Blumenfeld and her colleagues at the University of Michigan describe project-based learning and the benefits of using long-term projects as part of classroom instruction. The authors believe that projects have the potential to foster students' learning and classroom engagement by combining student interest with a variety of challenging, authentic problem-solving tasks. In their discussion of the essential components of project-based learning, the authors pay close attention to the design of projects with regard to classroom factors and teacher and student knowledge. After considering the possible challenges that face teachers using projects in their classrooms, the authors go on to describe how technology may be used as a support system by teachers and students involved in long-term projects.
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Article:

Blumenfeld, P., Soloway, E., Marx, R., Krajcik, J., Guzdial, M., & Palincsar, A. (1991) Motivating project-based learning: Sustaining the doing, supporting the learning. Educational Psychologist, 26 (3 & 4), 369-398.

Quotes and Comments:

"Project-based learning is... focused on teaching by engaging students in investigation. Within this framework, students pursue solutions to nontrivial problems by asking and refining questions, debating ideas, making predictions, designing plans and/or experiments, collecting and analyzing data, drawing conclusions, communicating their ideas and findings to others, asking new questions, and creating artifacts (e.g., a model, a report, videotape or computer program)" (371).

"There are two essential components of projects: They require a question or problem that serves to organize and drive activities; and these activities result in a series of artifacts, or products, that culminate in a final product that addresses the driving question" (371).

The authors stress that giving students freedom to generate artifacts is critical to their construction of knowledge. Whether the guiding questions and activities are student- or teacher-generated, their outcomes must not be fixed at the outset or students will not have the opportunity to try their own problem-solving approaches (372).

Blumenfeld and her colleagues later describe the benefits of project- based learning: "...as students investigate and seek solutions to problems, they acquire an understanding of key principles and concepts. Project-based learning also places students in realistic, contextualized problem-solving environments. In so doing, projects can serve to build bridges between phenomena in the classroom and real-life experiences; the questions and answers that arise in their daily enterprise are given value and are shown to be open to systematic inquiry. Hence, project-based education requires active engagement of students' effort over an extended period of time. Project-based learning also promotes links among subject matter disciplines and presents an expanded, rather than narrow, view of subject matter. Projects are adaptable to different types of learners and learning situations.... Projects can increase student interest because they involve students in solving authentic problems, in working with others, and in building real solutions (artifacts). Projects have the potential to enhance deep understanding because students need to acquire and apply information, concepts and principles, and they have the potential to improve competence in thinking because students need to formulate plans, track progress and evaluate solutions" (372-73).

The authors believe that the full benefits of projects cannot be achieved without taking into consideration the nature of student knowledge, the extent of teacher knowledge, and the complexity of the classroom setting. In order for projects to be successful learning experiences, students need to:

  • have enough time to work on a project
  • have some choice in the creation of questions, approaches and artifacts
  • possess the skills to work with others and the knowledge necessary to explore questions that arise
  • understand the teacher's method of evaluation.

Teachers need to be able to:- create environments that will promote inquiry and risk-taking and emphasize learning- understand project content, to enable them to help students - ascertain what students know about the problem before the project begins (375-84)

For Blumenfeld and her colleagues, then, project-based learning is a valuable yet challenging means of teaching and learning.

To help teachers and students face this challenge and successfully implement projects, the authors explain how technology can support both learning and instruction: "we describe how technology can contribute to student motivation to do projects by enhancing interest and, more importantly, supporting learning and the production of artifacts by making information accessible. [We also describe] how technology can share some of the teacher's responsibility for helping students as they engage in project-based learning..., and can help inform teachers about project-based learning and aid in project implementation" (384).

For students, technology can enhance interest by providing multiple levels of activities that match students' knowledge and skills and give them access to real, authentic data; electronic networks offer students easy access to key sources of information, as well as contact with other students across the world; software programs provide students with a means of planning their search for artifacts and collecting all of their work (385-89).

For teachers, technology can provide the knowledge and resources necessary to implement projects in their classrooms; software programs give teachers a means of illustrating and storing information about individual students, individual projects and their activities, and methods of helping students understand ideas or concepts; and electronic networks offer ways for teachers to share information with other teachers; technology provides teachers with support for planning and designing activities and for carrying out these plans (389-92).

When the factors affecting teachers, students, and classrooms are taken into consideration, and with the help of technological support systems, "projects can be designed to include elements that enhance most students' interest and value, including variety, challenge, choice, cooperation and closure in the service of answering real questions... and support students so that they feel able to succeed" (393).

- summarized by Liza Ewen

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