Regaining a Student’s Perspective on Project-based Learning

After playing the role of teacher for several years, I picked up the role of student again in the Fall of 2009 in pursuit of a Masters degree. After paying a grand for my first course, I fully expected lengthy lectures and a series of unit-based tests. When there were no lectures at all and large projects instead of tests dotted the landscape of the course syllabus, I was taken aback. Being the recipient of another teacher’s choices also gave me new insight on how my students may view my class. Here’s my take-away:

Impact of Inflated Project GradesFake A’s
There were projects into which I poured blood, sweat, and tears and received, of course, an A. Then there were projects that I slapped together because of life demands, and those projects received …. an A. PgradeA Wow, fake A’s are so deflating. I had to decide that my personal investment into a project was not to earn a grade but to learn. One professor handled this differently. She used a rubric that totaled to 100 points that she then divided by ten to generate a project score out of 10. This allowed her to show one area was less than perfect (she noticed!), yet the score in the end represented success.

Impact of Project Feedback
Even small amounts of personal teacher feedback powerfully impacted me. A project, unlike a written test, involved a personal investment. As a student, I scoured the graded project for any teacher-given feedback. An authentic, related comment to my work would go a long ways. As a teacher– I have to confess — I tend to become overwhelmed when grading projects and tend to skimp on the feedback portion in an effort to be finished. What am I doing to my students’ motivation levels in the long run when I do? Some student projects stand out to the teacher for awhile. I’ll see former students, and often a great project that they completed comes to mind. (Am I alone in this?) In compensation for the lack of feedback I gave at the time, I’m quick to tell them, “I still think about that great project you did on ________.”

Impact of group work
No shocker here: Group work is challenging. A bad group combination actually produces less than can be done individually. One project comes to mind; the randomly-chosen group spent more time fighting on direction. On the other hand, the power of good group can produce a better product than could be produced on my own. (Shout-out to my Virtual Mentoring Project Group! For this group, our professor required us to build our own groups by marketing our ideas to others in attempt to draw teammates to our project.)

Now a graduate of a project-based program, I have an overall sense of accomplishment and learning, but I also feel empowered that I CAN still accomplish and learn more on my own. Project-based learning — powerful stuff.

AlgebraSimplifiedIconDawn is a secondary Algebra teacher in Maryland with a B.S. in Secondary Mathematics Education and a Masters in Information Science and Learning Technologies.

One thought on “Regaining a Student’s Perspective on Project-based Learning

  1. Dawn–your experience mirrors mine exactly! It certainly was good to see things from the other side. Another aha moment I had was with citing my sources. I’m an “expert” at using MLA and my course required APA. It was a tedious process for me, and gave me a whole new understanding of why my students find it difficult!

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