Project-Based Learning: Student-Led Projects at Emmaus Produce Hands-On Lessons

Posted on Feb 01, 2016 by Alicia Levitt - Quality Education

After winter break ends, the students at Emmaus Lutheran School come back excited to learn.That’s because Emmaus embarks upon a two-week project based learning unit (PBL), where all grades, K-8th, work on a thematic project the last two hours of the school day.Project based learning’s goal is to actively engage students in a hands-on study by promoting creative thinking and problem solving. Students gain knowledge and enhance their skills by finding new ways to respond to in-depth questions, chosen by each teacher.The students lead the projects and give each other feedback in order to revise their projects. At the end of the two weeks, students present their projects to others at an event known as “Winterim.”
For Megan McGehee, fourth grade teacher at Emmaus, project based learning is an exciting way to immerse students in a unit of study. Her class has completed projects on the 50 states, candy experiments, and the Underground Railroad. This year, Mrs. McGehee is tackling another project that will immerse students in math concepts: learning to use fractions and percentages in a pretend business.“The students absolutely love project based learning, she says. “They get incredibly excited when they come back from break knowing they will be completing their two-week projects.”She explains that the impact is longer than the unit, with students mentioning their learning months later.“In fourth grade social studies we briefly discuss the Underground Railroad towards the spring. Students always bring up things they learned during PBL and want to discuss them during our classroom discussions.”It’s student-led learning at its finest, with students seeking answers for questions and taking ownership of what they learn.“PBL impacts students positively by giving them pride and entitlement for the work they are completing,” Mrs. McGehee adds. “The students are able to control the direction of their project, which creates a lot of excitement for the project and for learning overall. Students take pride in their project because they created it from scratch.”Project based learning units change the way teaching happens in the classroom, with students taking the lead and finding their own answers.
“For two weeks, students have full control of the project they are completing. The students do have guidelines and a driving question to follow, but the students are the ones who critique their work, give feedback for improvements, and make changes when necessary.”Students take ownership over the project by choosing the means they use to complete the projects, as well as the way they will present their work at the end.Mrs. McGehee’s favorite thing about the project is being able to watch students lead one another through the learning process.“It is wonderful to see how well the students work together when they are the ones that are in control,” she says. “The students manage to divide the work with one another and they all take an active role in completing the tasks. There is not one student that isn’t excited about their project and active in the work.”Students present their projects at the end, showing parents the results of their concentrated study. By giving them ownership and pride over their work, Emmaus is an example of how student-led learning can generate excitement for education in powerful ways.