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Thursday, May 2, 2013

An Introduction to Independent Project-Based Learning

An Introduction to Independent Project Based Learning-The Unlikely Homeschool


After using our Task Cards for only a few months, it became glaringly obvious that our little Sweetie Pea needed something extra to fill her day.  She, as a first-born AND as the ONLY sister (mother hen) to a tribe of boys, has always been quite self-motivated and hard working.  The Task Cards gave her the organizational tools to get all her school work done in a timely fashion leaving most of the day for reading...and reading...and well, READING!  

And while reading for pleasure is NEVER a bad thing, reading for both pleasure AND information is even better!  Remember, the goal of learning to read is READING TO LEARN.  Enter our independent project-based learning assignments...  

 Independent Project Based Learning-The Unlikely Homeschool

In an effort to cultivate an independent love for learning within my READER, I have begun giving month-long project-based learning assignments.  Unlike most of her regular school work, these are self-directed projects that are COMPLETELY child led.  

Here's how it works.

At the beginning of the month, Sweetie Pea has to pick a topic that she would like to explore.  The choice is completely up to her...within reason. 

Depending upon her topic, she can use a wide-variety of resources in her research...library books, youtube videos, real-life mentors who are knowledgable on the subject, the internet, etc.  

She can take notes in a small notebook as well as keep track of how many days she has left to complete her independent study.

At the end of the month, or allotted time frame, she has to present her findings to the family in some way...a speech, a demonstration, a display...the choice is up to her.  

She has to be prepared to answer any questions that her audience might have after her presentation.

Independent Project Based Learning-The Unlikely Homeschool


She recently presented her very first independent study.  

She chose to study the life of Betsy Ross, famed American flag seamstress.  After learning about her two years ago in American history, she was still very curious about the "rest of the story."  

And how did it go?

She absolutely loved working on her project each day.  And why not?  It was something she was NATURALLY interested in and had NATURAL motivation to learn more.  As this was her first independent project, I encouraged her to answer the questions WHO, WHAT, WHERE, WHEN, WHY, and HOW as she researched.  This gave her a basic outline to follow and helped direct and organize her research.  

When it came time to present her findings, she decided to fill a basket with items that represented portions of Betsy Ross' life.  She passed the basket around the room and invited everyone to claim one item from the basket.  She referred to each one of these trinkets during a short discussion of Betsy Ross.  

Independent Project Based Learning-The Unlikely Homeschool

What are the benefits?

The most obvious benefit to this type of learning is that, as statistics have shown, self-initiated learning is engaging and effective because it is RELEVANT.  Students learn best when the material has value to them.  Since she was able to choose the topic, Sweetie Pea naturally chose something of value TO HER and learned a great deal.  

In addition, an independent project with a pre-determined time frame helps to develop much-needed scheduling skills.  I did not nag her to keep on schedule.  I only gave her a due date and allowed her to determine how many days she would spend researching and how many days she would spend preparing to present her materials.  A simple "days until my project" countdown helped to give her a tangible sense of time. (I chose a month because I wanted to give her enough time to FULLY explore the topic, but not too much time that she would get bored or grow empathetic.)

Strengths can be nurtured and weaknesses can be mentored.  While it was obvious to the entire audience that Sweetie Pea had learned quite a bit about the life and times of Betsy Ross, it was difficult to understand the information through her nervous jitters.  After the presentation, I was able to take her aside and give a private critique of her presentation skills.  We brainstormed some ideas of how to present her ideas clearly and creatively next time. As in all things, she will get better with practice.

Project-based learning encourages community.  Knowledge gained from worksheets or textbooks can not be easily shared with others.  Projects, on the other hand, can be extended to family and friends.  On the night of the scheduled presentation, we welcomed extended family for dinner and a "show".  She was able to exhibit her information to more than just mom and dad and in the process cultivate her relationships with others.

Researching one topic often leads to another topic worth exploring.  During her month-long study, my daughter came upon several more topics that she became anxious to explore.  I encouraged her to keep a running list of these ideas in her project journal.  Later when she had to choose a topic for her next month-long study, she had several great suggestions already waiting.  

And what did she choose for project #2?...Origami!  She's got quite a collection of paper pets already and she's only on day 3.

Independent Project Based Learning-The Unlikely Homeschool

(This post contains affiliate links.)

For more information on project-based learning, I'd highly recommend...

16 comments:

  1. I was thinking whether this could be extended to work with a home ed group for slightly older children. This might be a useful forum for presenting a project.

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    1. Our co-op moms are actually in the discussion process of incorporating something similar to this in our group. It would be on a smaller scale and be similar to a show-n-share. We haven't completely decided yet.

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    2. you can definitely do this with a group — when i wrote “project-based homeschooling” i was adapting the methods from my private, reggio-inspired school where mixed-age classes did projects together. :)

      i have a beta version up on my blog of “how to start a project group” — i took feedback and i’m finishing the final version now, but if you want to see the first version, it’s here: http://project-based-homeschooling.com/how-to-start-a-project-group

      (i’m adding more details about how to choose a group topic, etc.)

      good luck!

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    3. Thanks for the link, Lori. I've pinned it to review with my co-op moms as we discuss how our group will look next year.

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    4. you’re very welcome! check back for the final copy; i’m hoping to have it up in a week or so. feel free to e-mail me if you have any questions, or you can check out the pbh forum — we have several people putting different groups together who are sharing ideas.

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  2. Thanks for the shout out Jamie! Very fun post!

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  4. What a great idea, thanks for sharing!

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  5. glad to hear it’s working so well for you! i’d also like to point out that my blog has a forum for parents who are doing project-based homeschooling, and it’s a very friendly and *supportive* space. (bit unusual for a forum! ;o)

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  6. This is a very cool idea! How old is your daughter? I have a 12 year old who is very interested in WWII right now. This would be a good way for him to capture is learning.

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    1. My daughter is nine and in the fourth grade. This year was a year of blossoming for her. She has really taken off in her INDEPENDENT learning.

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  7. Jamie, I've linked to this on my blog. Independent, project based learning is going into the thinking and planning for next year.

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    1. Wonderful! You'll have to let me know how it goes.

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