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Showcase Student Work during Project-Based Learning

Authentic work requires a real-world audience

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“If students are sharing their work with the world, they want it to be good.
If their just sharing it with you, they just want it to be good enough.“
— Rushton Hurley

In a project-based approach to teaching and learning, students are presented with real issues and problems and learn content as they develop solutions. These “authentic tasks” help students see the relevance of the content and skills they are learning through obvious connections to needs and work done in and for the world beyond the classroom.

A project-based approach to instruction also provides students with essential 21st century communication skills. During project work, students have an opportunity to practice essential elements of the Common Core Anchor Standards for English Language Arts as they:

The complex issues and problems students engage with also require them to practice and employ creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration in order to find effective solutions (4Cs).

Sharing Student Work

Students must share their work with the widest audience possible. Truly authentic projects need a real-world audience that values their effort and achievements.

Student work is authentic when it is:

A real world role and situation for every classroom project would be ideal. When that”s not possible, a simulation or model can provide the necessary context for student work. Students want to do real work that pass the “why do we have to know this?” or “Who cares?” tests. . If businesses or community have no skin in the game, it’s difficult to motivate learners. This is an essential distinction between a project and project-based learning.

Students must do work that has “the honest possibility of benefiting or even changing the world.”Instead of focusing on bringing the real world to your classroom, focus on bringing your classroom into the real world.

What careers connect with your content?

  • Science: chemist, doctor, nurse, coroner, veterinarian
  • Math: caterer, accountant, businessperson, statistician, architect
  • English: investigative reporter, blogger, organizer, marketer
  • Social studies: archeologist, researcher, politician

What organizations in the community can use student expertise?

  • Science: community garden, parks, nature preserve, clean water coalition
  • Math: accounting and fundraising for non-profits
  • English: advertising and outreach for community organizations
  • Social studies: civic outreach, historic preservation, community planning

By asking students to think for a purpose moves your instructional tasks up to level three of Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. Connecting student work and effort to the world beyond the classroom gives a reason for them to care and a motivation to work hard.

Where can student work be shared?

In his Teacher’s Guide to Project-Based Learning, Alec Patton suggests that “booking the exhibition venue should be one of the first things you do when you’re planning a project.” (66) If students have developed original artwork, seek a local café, library, or small business to showcase their work. If they have written original poetry or narrative fiction, publish a magazine or distribute eBooks.

When students’ work and efforts are truly valuable, it should be be used by the community beyond the classroom. Consider having students develop a virtual museum for a local organization or create online resources that match physical artifacts.

If they have conducted research and developed informational flyers, work to have them printed and distributed by the relevant organization, such as wildlife guides or activity booklets for a local park.

8 ideas for sharing student expertise

  1. Plan a mini-conference or trade show where students share their expertise.
  2. Present student designs to a panel of industry experts.
  3. Build a website that is hosted by someone else, not just shared on a school web page.
  4. Develop informational brochures or flyers for a local business or community organization.
  5. Air public service announcements on public access television
  6. Upload video biographies and documentaries to YouTube so relevant organizations can embed them on their sites or use them in presentations.
  7. Collect, analyze, and publish scientific data on the health of a local ecosystem or watershed.
  8. Host a public forum where students can inform, raise awareness, and debate important issues.

Sharing student learning

A connection to the world beyond the classroom motivates students to put in the effort necessary for success. Reflecting on their learning during the PBL process promotes student academic growth and the metacognition essential to an effective student-centered learning environment.

Presenting and sharing work is a great way to celebrate effort and successes. To further academic growth, students should complete presentations of learning that share their thinking about their content learning, process learning, acquired skills, problem-solving, and collaborative work.

If students are partnering with the community, separate the product presentation from the presentation of learning. For example, if outside experts are judging a product prototype or design, the focus needs to remain on the product.

Sharing student work with the world beyond the classroom and sharing student learning are separate tasks, but both are essential for effective project-based learning.

Melinda Kolk

by Melinda Kolk

Melinda Kolk (@melindak) is the Editor of Creative Educator and the author of Teaching with Clay Animation. She has been helping educators implement project-based learning and creative technologies like clay animation into classroom teaching and learning for the past 15 years.

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