Sunday, December 19, 2010

Project Based Learning - Built to Learn

We've been talking about the value of project based learning. PBL has been described as learning that is purposeful and relevant with a deeper connection to the challenges of the real world. PBL can be used to develop key 21st century skills: critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. The BIE video is a helpful explanation.

One of my favorite examples of PBL is the Senior Construction Course at Delta Secondary School. Each year, the students in Wayne McKinnon's Construction Class build a house. That's right. The students build a house. Last year, they built a 2200 sq. foot, two-level vacation home. The home is built in a compound on the school grounds over a period of several months. In the spring, the home is dis-assembled, transported and then re-assembled on site. Last year's home found its way to a view property on the Sunshine Coast. The students typically spend 7-10 days on the job site fully immersed in the work. It's an incredible learning experience that they will likely never forget. Furthermore, it's the type experiential learning that they are able to transfer to the world of work. Recently, I had a conversation with one of the students from last year's project, who returned to the Sunshine Coast this fall to continue work on the home, but this time as paid staff. Talk about a seamless transition.

The Construction Project meets all the major tenets of PBL. The students learn to develop critical thinking and problem solving strategies throughout the construction process. They learn to adapt their plans to meet the specifications of the site, and the property owner. They learn to collaborate and function within and as a team in a variety of challenging settings. And finally they learn to communicate, and build trusting relationships with each other, their teacher and their clients.

What is really obvious is the pride that the students have in their work. The project provides them with tangible evidence that their efforts and workmanship really matter and when done well, provide great satisfaction to others. McKinnon happily describes the special bond that develops between the students and the homeowner.

Mr. McKinnon secures a major project for each school year. Sometimes its a bit of a scramble, other years he has his pick. But year after year, the projects keep coming and McKinnon's students are the benefactors. 

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