Reflecting on the Success of Project Based Learning

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I know this is usually my collage day, accounting our week of learning.  This week we have been busy getting over infections and working towards our presentation (which due to illness had to be postponed to next Tuesday).  I didn’t have the time nor the inclination to take any photos.  We did however, bring to a close our twelve or so weeks of learning using projects as our primary learning method and I want to document the successes and failures of this educational experiment.

First up, projects have been a huge success in our household overall.  Individually, they will need tweaking to make them work better for each child, but in the main, I think we have found a method of home schooling which works pretty perfectly for us.   It seems like all our home schooling over the past ten years or so has naturally led us to project based learning.

Bizarrely, backing off and letting them have more say and more freedom has probably been the steepest learning curve for me.  Having always been the driving force of our home school it is difficult for me now to know when I should step in and when I should sit back and let the child figure something out for themselves. One of my children would be quite happy to allow me to do all their work should I be so inclined and so I have to be particularly careful with that child to make sure they are working to the fullest of their potential rather than at half mast.

I have learnt that I very much enjoy watching my children each explore their own ways of learning, which are all so different.  It has been very interesting for me to discover that T12 wants me as far away as possible from his learning.  He will ask for help, but he likes pretty much total independence and has completely blossomed under that freedom.

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This term he chose the War of the Roses to study and confidently set about researching on his lap top.  This was a new acquisition for his birthday and Christmas and it has been such a help to his school work we have decided to get L and C one before their birthday in October.  What astounded me the most was his 1000 word play he wrote documenting his learning, which he then filmed using his sisters and father as his actors.  This was a big undertaking for someone who hates writing and had never really operated a video camera before.  He figured out everything by himself and has learnt so much.  His film, whilst incredibly good given his lack of experience, was a little on the dark side.  Even though he had lit the area with all the lamps he could get his hands on, Gary could hardly be seen.  He is already trouble shooting that issue in preparation for his next film.  Also, he filmed in stages, filming each scene at different times of the day, depending when each actor was available.  The problem was that the lighting tended to be different in each scene and when they were pasted together there was a lack of continuity in lighting.  So again this is something he will address in time for his next film.

L11 has enjoyed the practical nature of project work, and coming up with ideas.  She, however, does not enjoy learning alone.  Whilst she wants to actually carry out the work herself, she needs my presence for moral support and simple company.  She has always hated being alone so this doesn’t really surprise me.  However, like her brother she has completed her term’s project almost entirely independently.  She doesn’t require my help, just my presence.

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Her project work has been all about preparing the medieval feast, which will be held at their presentation on Tuesday.  Given she is catering for 12 people at our feast, she has handled it fairly well.  L12 is laid back by nature and so long as she know what is expected of her she usually calmly delivers.  Her main beef has been that she has felt alone and a bit isolated for the duration of the project.  We are planning on counteracting that with some one to one time at the beginning of each day’s project time.  She has also asked if she could explore her artistic side a bit more.  My answer, of course, was that she could do as she wished for it was HER project!  I think at that moment a light bulb went on in her head, as she suddenly realised the potential in project based learning.

C11 has probably struggled the most with project work.  She says she enjoys it, and she certainly seemed to enjoy the research at the beginning, but she got bored very quickly, so that finishing the 12 week project was particularly difficult for her.  Having discussed it further, she has asked for more input in breaking down a project into manageable pieces and having accountability for finishing one part before moving on to the next.

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Her project was on medieval fashions and to be honest I think she bit off more than she could chew, and I think she may have lost interest because it was simply too hard.  At the last-minute I had to step in and help and I feel she now does not think of the dolly’s clothes as her own creation, even though she did a lot of it herself.  She is so full of great ideas but they are often not terribly realistic.  I’m not really sure what my job should be.  Do I attempt to rein her in, but in doing so steal her joy and enthusiasm by taking full ownership of the project away from her, or do I step back and watch the inevitable upset which will follow as she fails to reach her self set goals?  I don’t know the answer.  However, I do know that this forthcoming term I will be striving to help her to set her sights on a fully and easily achievable goal.  She needs the confidence that success will bring, and she needs to know what she can achieve rather than what she can’t.  I will do everything in my power to set her up pre-project for success and enjoyment; but I am also going to back right off the moment the term starts and give her the space to succeed on her own.

I think I can confidently say we are now project based home schoolers.  It sits comfortably between more formal methods of learning and unschooling, and I really do think it suits our mix of personalities.  We’re all looking forward to next term learning along side each other.

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27 comments

  1. If C11 is anything like me, she will gradually learn where her own limitations are and start enjoying doing simple things with excellence, rather than complex things adequately. But it is a lesson that has to be learnt over time.

    This year for my degree I’ve had to do a personal development module and it helped me realise I need a lot of structure in tackling projects. I created a template for making a project to-do list, which lets me set out initial goals, next steps and milestones (I love ticking off achievements!). I can either write the entire list in one go if I know all the steps, or just add the next one each time I finish a step so that I’m never lost about what to do next. Maybe this technique will be helpful for C? It’s funny how we all have different ways of tackling tasks!

    I’m sure I’ve said it before but I love your blog, it is always interesting and it gives me so many ideas not just about what I might do in the future if I have children, but how to approach my own learning at the moment! Looking forward to hearing about the presentation itself, I hope you’re all recovered.

  2. Well done all of you – you’ve done brilliantly! I’m so glad project based learning is working out so well for you. Good luck with the presentation – I can’t wait to hear all about it. I hope everyone’s feeling better now.

    1. It’s really nice to find somewhere comfy to sit and project based learning fits like a glove! Now I just have to sort their maths out and I’ll be flying high!!

  3. I am glad that the freedoms are working for you! I desire that independence for my students, but this past week, we had to do a very structured environment. The kids were just wandering all over the place and skipping things 😦 But I do really want them to drive their own education. I love watching what your kids do with history. Fantastic!!

    1. I also enjoy them driving their own education, it’s really fun to watch their different takes and the results of all their hard work. Thank you for dropping by.

  4. It’s really useful to know the individual learning style of each child in order to know how to support them appopriately. It’s interesting to note the strong independence of T12, as opposed to the varying degrees displayed by the girls. It seems to me that all of you have done exceptionally well. Keep up the good work. I look forward to reading about your next projects. Hope everyone is feeling better now.

  5. It was very interesting to hear your thoughts on project-based learning. I love the quote at the top, too. You are such a brilliant teacher and since you have been blogging it is not just your children who have benefited from your talents. Thank you for sharing, encouraging and helping us.

  6. I have to tell you that I very much enjoy reading your blog each week, and I love watching how you teach to each of your children individually and take so much time and care for their uniqueness.

    Project based learning seems to be a PERFECT fit for your family – it’s a beautiful thing to watch!

  7. I just love what you’re doing in your homeschool! I wish my kids were a bit younger because this is something I would like to explore, but fear doing so since Josh will be in 9th grade next year. I worry that would be bad time to discover that he lacks the motivation to finish the project. Maybe, though. It might not hurt to give it a try and see what happens. You inspire me.

    1. We just did our projects in the afternoon, leaving the mornings for other school work. The last ten weeks were somewhat of an experiment. Next term almost all our day will be taken up with projects. Maybe you could do a trial period?
      Kris, I’m so enjoying getting to know you (albeit across the oceans!)

  8. This is so fascinating – I think project based learning would be my inclination, and it’s really interesting to see how differently all three kids respond to it. Just in parenting I find myself struggling with determining when to jump in and when to back off (I think the girls would overall prefer more backing off 🙂 – it must be all the more difficult with homeschooling. Can’t wait for the presentation!!!

    1. I’m so pleased we need to back off gradually over a few years rather than over night. I think it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do!
      Presentation is on Tuesday if C is well enough. We’re all a bit excited!

  9. I am impressed with what your kids have done. Now I am pondering a project learning for a 13 year old boy. I might need to add some of that to his study.

    1. I’d encourage you to try it. I know it’s not for everyone but it’s such an effective and easy way of learning it has to be worth trying at least once!

  10. I love how you are so in tune with each of your kids! You know just what each if them needs to succeed and that’s not always an easy task! Try as hard as I I might I never could get my kids interested in doing projects!

    1. Hello Lori! It was your book which inspired me to try it out. I shall definitely be mentioning both you and your book over the next few months. I really enjoyed it and your blog. Thanks for visiting.

  11. So glad you have found a fit for your family. Project learning really does prepare for adulthood. I love that you have found ways to meet the uniqueness of each of your children. You are fantastic homeschooling mum:)
    I am praying everyone is well so you can get those presentations underway. I know they will be fabulous!
    :)))’s your way, Claire!

    1. Thanks Donna. Project learning is perfect for us because it is so flexible for meeting the needs of all types of learners. I think I might become a bit of a project based learning bore!!

  12. This is just magnificent!! Seriously Claire, this is what homeschooling should look like. I love LOVE the idea of Project Based Learning and you have inspired me so much!! I agree with Kris though, I wish Keilee was a bit younger. I do think this could work for High School though!! I agree it does prepare you for real adult life. Well done to all!!!!

  13. I’m like your daughter and tend to bite off way more than I can chew, and like the first commenter it takes time and more time to find the right balance.

    For me I need to have an idea of what steps I need to do, and break it down from there. I also have to add in almost double the time I think it will take because I always tend to underestimate the time I need.

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