What is Project-Based Learning? Maybe the Open-Ended Answer to your Personalized Education
So, you have decided that you want to home educate.
You have researched and found your community but are now at the pointy end of it all and actually have to start.
So often we know the ‘why’, but not the ‘how’.
We chatted with Blair Lee from SEA Homeschoolers about project-based learning and she shared how it works.
Her book, co-authored with Samantha Cook, Project-Based Learning: Creating a Modern Education of Curiosity, Innovation, and Impact is a great guide for using the project-based approach at home.
Offering deep engagement, project-based learning is a holistic way of handcrafting your child’s education. It allows a self-directed exploration of topics that learners can apply to real-world situations.
Project-based learning focuses on the student, encouraging active participation and learning freedom.
Blair from SEA Homeschoolers has been providing guidance and support for families looking to personalize their education journey. Her passionate advocacy of project-based learning is obvious, and she shared her insights with us.
What is SEA Homeschoolers?
Secular, Eclectic, Academic Homeschoolers is a diverse, international group of families who value secular academics and the freedom to tailor their learning approach.
Blair explains they are not either secular or eclectic.
She says that it is the combination of academic material recommended by industry experts and the fluid way learners can engage with the material that sets them apart.
Something that SEA shares with Galileo is the goal of creating a supportive, online community for families looking to personalize their children’s education.
Self-directed learning is gaining popularity and more people are making the choice to home educate
The United States has the most homeschoolers worldwide and yet meaningful conversations about this movement are still limited.
Blair says she would want the next person in charge of the Department of Education in the US to have her homeschool knowledge and experience. It is important to acknowledge that alternative education is no longer a small, fringe movement but a mainstream way of educating children in a meaningful way.
Debates about home education can polarize and Blair explains that there is a range of homeschool families not being considered.
In America particularly, there is inconsistent legislation around home educating. There is also a misconception that alternative education means you are anti-school. This is not necessarily true, and it is actually just a choice to do something different.
Self-directed, home-based education has value and is a meaningful alternative to traditional education.
Most importantly, home education is a choice!
What Blair and SEA work towards, is parents who feel supported and confident in their decision to choose a different path for their kids.
What is project-based learning?
The most basic definition of project-based learning is the “application of academic and vocational skills and knowledge within a project”.
It is an umbrella term, home to problem-based and project-based education as well. These are more closed-ended approaches that are solution-driven. They allow less freedom for the student as they know how they are going to reach the end of the project.
Project-based learning (PBL) is open-ended and holistic.
It allows you to structure learning in the way that suits your family best. You can pull together different topics and include them holistically in a project. This results in a proper focus on learning that results in joy and passion.
Learning happens on a deeper level as students can apply previously learned knowledge in a meaningful context. This is often a real-world context that connects children with a wider, more global, community.
And isn’t that what learning is all about?
The ability to share knowledge with others in a connected way?
Projects usually have parameters, and specific goals, but the students have the space to apply their knowledge within the project. They can express themselves in a self-directed way and through a variety of mediums. The open-ended nature of PBL means learners can dive into the content and focus on what they are learning rather than on an end goal.
At Galileo, we involve students in project-based learning online. A recommendation for this approach is to use presentations rather than testing.
Students get to share their knowledge and passions and learn from their friends.
Galileo’s clubs and bootcamps model project-based learning as one of the core features. This offers students a personalized and engaging approach to their education. Students and mentors connect and learn together. They focus on skills and the process of learning, rather than on tests and outcomes.
Blair says that “being able to articulate yourself outside of just your own, small community is a learning skill that project-based learning really promotes”.
If recent times have taught us anything, it is that the world is smaller than we thought. Having the skills to communicate and connect with a diverse range of people is more important than ever.
How Blair used project-based learning with her child
Blair became a firm advocate of the project-based approach after seeing how her son responded to a project on US politics. Her enthusiasm is infectious and her passion for this way of learning is obvious.
It was very important to her that her son knew the importance of voting. After seeing the lack of youngsters at the polls in 2014, she created a project for him in 2016 at the time of the elections.
Her parameters were that it needed to include writing and a website. With this in mind, her son had to choose a platform issue and a presidential candidate who represented that issue. It was a project that he fully immersed himself in. He wrote blog posts that were actually published by an online magazine, created a Facebook group and a series of YouTube videos.
He told his mom that he had never felt so connected to his learning and even spent three months volunteering in voter sign-ups.
The open-ended project meant that he could meet the writing criteria by writing YouTube scripts and blogs rather than 5-paragraph essays.
Project-based learning isn’t a methodology but a learning tool that allows for creativity and freedom.
It is easily adapted for different age groups and offers students the chance to use their vision to share knowledge with other people.
How you can try project-based learning with your child
Knowing that you want to follow an alternative education path and actually doing it can look quite different.
It can be stressful and scary to make a bold change for your family.
Blair’s book is a significant starting point for project-based learning. It provides helpful examples of the project-based approach in action and provides you with a framework for your own personalized projects.
It was important to her that the book model project-based learning. That way parents can have tangible tips on how to implement it rather than just understanding why it is valuable.
The SEA website also provides some helpful resources to guide you and your kids.
The question often asked is how do you design a project that is supposed to be open-ended when you have criteria you want to be met?
- Decide on a topic or ‘driving question’
- Decide on what you want to be applied. What skills or learning would you like your kids to use?
- Choose a starting a point
- Allow your kids the freedom to interpret those things and make the project their own
Blair talks about an upcoming book which is an unofficial Harry Potter-themed book study. It is a great example of project-based learning and the fact that it can be applied at any age. Blair and Sam decided on a driving question, “What is magic?” and then created projects and content based on that.
They were both able to interpret the question based on their skill sets and then create content for the book based on their strengths and interests. That meant that from the same question, Blair wrote original science labs and “potions” while Sam created arts and crafts projects.
The open-ended nature of project-based learning meant they could use their creativity and imaginations to answer the question within the set parameters.
The freedom and creativity that this approach offers is an exciting step towards a more skills-based learning system.
Does project-based learning sound like it would suit your family?
If the freedom to choose how you and your children structure their education is important to you, then an alternative education including a project-based approach could be a good fit.
Particularly in Galileo’s clubs, children can share knowledge that they are interested in and have fun doing it.
There is no need to stress that it won’t work, or that your kids won’t be learning. When your kids are exploring topics that get them excited and sharing that information meaningfully with friends, they are learning!
Your children get to choose how they structure their day, what clubs they want to attend, and what presentation they want to make each week. This self-directed approach means that not only are they able to control their learning, but they become self-organized, lifelong learners.
Galileo equips students with real-world skills that allow them to question, challenge, and engage the world around them.
Our children are capable of big things when we give them freedom and autonomy. Are you ready to let them grow into the change-makers the world needs?
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