Thoughtful Christian educators, realizing that they live and work in a rapidly changing world, are constantly looking for ways to improve the way they do their work. They ask themselves questions like these:
How can we reconcile the constant emphasis on the need to encourage our students to develop twenty-first-century learning skills with our mission and vision as schools where students are transformed by their learning into effective voices for the kingdom of God in the world?
How can we, both as educators and as students, manage and make sense of the overwhelming amount of information that we have at our fingertips?
How do we provide learning opportunities for our students that are engaging, authentic, and meaningful?
And last, but certainly not least: In view of the challenging results of research on how people learn, how do we let go of ideas about teaching that we may have held dear, and develop new ways of supporting our students in their learning? How do we as educators support each other in this ongoing process of reimagining how we might do our work?
This issue focuses on project-based learning (PBL), an approach that has been emerging for a number of years and has found a great deal of support among educators in many parts of the world.
PBL has many features that thoughtful educators, including those in Christian schools, will find attractive. It has the potential to engage students in ways that traditional teacher-directed learning does not. It allows students a voice in determining the content, the scheduling, the strategies, and the goals of learning, and it connects their learning authentically to projects and activities that are meaningful to them and relate to the issues of their world as they experience it. In that process, students develop the skills often identified as essential to learning in the twenty-first century. Included in these are skills such as communication and presentation, organization and time management, research and inquiry, self-assessment and reflection, and group participation and leadership. Typically in PBL, students work together in groups, defining goals, strategies, and outcomes collaboratively. Although student achievement is measured individually, it is clear to all participants in the group that the success of the learning is the responsibility of the group as a whole, depending on each individual within it. It also allows students to learn from projects and activities that may have had results different from those that were intended. In PBL, “failure” is simply a normal occasion for further reflection and further learning, not a reason for giving up.
The contributors to this issue offer their reflections on PBL and their experiences with it not as the final words on the subject, but as a way of encouraging all Christian educators to reflect on a very promising strategy for learning, one that resonates in many ways with our goals in our Christian schools. If you wish further information on PBL, you are encouraged contact any of the authors in this issue and also to visit the website of the Buck Institute for Education in Novato, California and the website of High Tech High in San Diego, California. Both of these sites offer a wide range of resources on how to get started in PBL and how to engage your colleagues in discussions about PBL.
It is our hope that this issue will encourage conversations in your faculty room that will allow you to continue to grow in your effectiveness as Christian educators. If you wish to share your experiences with PBL, please share them with our readers by submitting your thoughts to the editor (editorCEJ@bell.net). This may allow us to continue this conversation in the September 2013 issue.