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Ask the teacher (about project based learning!) – PSCA

Richard Read, Science specialist, from the Plymouth School of Creative Arts (PSCA) is passionate about Project Based Learning (PBL) and gave The Academies Show some insight into what it involves, and how it can be implemented successfully:

“Project Based Learning changes how we look at education and the best ways to engage young people in learning. Learning is all around. It is in books, in classrooms, at museums, at workplaces. We learn through reading, listening, engaging, but mostly by doing.  When we apply what we learn to something tangible – something interesting to US – we remember it. We want to learn more about it, and learn more about things around it.

Soon after joining Plymouth School of Creative Arts I was sceptical when I was asked if I would take part in a pilot to trial a Learning Management System called HERO, that was

  • ‘Learner Centric’
  • Would help me be less didactic in my teaching, more of a ‘guide alongside’

but intrigued when I learnt that HERO was founded on a Project Based Learning (PBL) approach.  That made me curious, so my answer was ‘Yes’!

What I quickly found was an opportunity to shift away from what I had become used to which was structuring lessons around PowerPoint and presenting myself as a font of knowledge for pupils. This approach, whilst useful for ticking off learning objectives, rarely provided pupils with an opportunity to be inquisitive, to explore ideas or to make mistakes… and it just didn’t feel like there was time for such ‘distractions’ before it was time to ‘move on’!

PBL lends itself to a multi-disciplinary learning experience, which in turn helps to provide meaning, and gives pupils ‘a why’ for what they are learning.  But how to use PBL in the classroom was a riddle I could not unlock without HERO, but with it I found I could completely ‘flip’ my approach to teaching.

HERO’s ability to map out ‘Work Plans’ with clear modules, steps, learning checkpoints, and final products, meant that an individualised sequence of learning was available to each and every pupil.  As a result, many pupils have really flown!  It isn’t always the pupils one would expect either, I have found that many less able pupils, as well as those with specific learning needs, have responded well to the structure and simplicity of expectation.

A key benefit, for me, has been that once the framework is in place to allow it, pupils can take leadership of their learning. That HERO makes this feasible reminds me of a something Professor Stephen Heppell said, “this isn’t the time to use technology to refine the model we had before; this is a time to harness technology, to let children go as far and as fast as they want”.

The way the wider staff team works has changed too.  Rarely, if ever, will you now find me teaching the entire class from the front. Instead, myself and others in the studio are more likely to be migratory, working with small groups of pupils, moving with the ebb and flow of the lesson.  When it flows at its best the studio feels like a research library, with intrinsically motivated pupils, focused and on task, and staff being flexible, providing additional support where and when needed.

Using PBL at PSCA, facilitated by HERO, has meant I have been able to change almost everything about the way I teach, from how I structure lessons to what I’m assessing pupils for, and how I assess. It has been a steep learning curve, which doesn’t look set to level off any time soon, but it feels like a hugely positive step in the right direction.  HERO formatively tracks learning using an editable ‘learning objectives’ based model, which keeps pupils, teachers and parents continuously informed.  In effect, subject based learning proficiencies are self assessed, and teacher moderated, as a by-product of work done within projects; those curriculum areas still to be covered (or returned to) are also apparent.”

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