25 Feb, 2019
10 : 00
“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow”, said the great American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey. At YCIS Shanghai, we continue to take the lead in teaching methodology, and we are continually implementing teaching methods which prepare children to be successful in navigating their futures.
One such methodology is Project-Based Learning (PBL), and last weekend we welcomed Mr Kyle Wagner, educational consultant and the owner of Transform Educational Consulting, to host a one-day workshop for teachers and administrators all about Project-Based Learning.
Mr Jim Wilcox, Primary Vice Principal at YCIS Puxi, helped to facilitate the workshop and explained PBL as “a teaching method in which children learn, usually over a period of weeks, through identifying a real-world problem, question, or challenge, and developing its solution. The children show what they learn as they journey through the unit, and the end goal is to showcase and share their learning visibly with others.”
During the workshop, Mr Wagner shared that Project-Based Learning helps foster the skills most crucial for success in a rapidly changing world. It allows students to make meaning of content as they can apply the content to real-world situations. It also prepares students for university and life: when students enter college and the workforce, they will be asked to engage in collaborative projects. PBL helps teach students how to engage with and lead these teams.
For educators at Saturday’s workshop, Mr Wagner began with the "Whys of PBL", and then provided a prompt to start a simulation project on how to encourage people to be more responsible in their use of shared bicycles in China. In their normal school teams, our educators collaborated to create a PR campaign to encourage responsibility, with a timeline, and an end product which was all then presented to all of the attendees. In a normal PBL situation, projects take many weeks to complete.
In the afternoon, our educators looked at our current units of learning and discussed how PBL could be implemented into the units. As a shining example take-away, Leaders from Year 1 at YCIS Puxi Primary will now implement PBL in an upcoming unit about plants. An outside expert, BioFarms, will come to talk with the students, and the project with spread across the Year 1 curriculum, interlinking with lessons in Chinese Studies and Art. The children will choose which plants they want to grow and will collaborate in many different ways to grow edible plants. The end goal is to later harvest the crops and host a market to sell them toward the end of the year.
Indeed, Project-Based Learning is not new to our staff, as enquiry-based learning has always been part of our curriculum. A recent example is the Up, Up, and Away Project by our YCIS Puxi Primary Year 1 students, led by Ms Monica Gannon, Year 1 Co-Teacher and Team Leader. Teachers presented the concept of different aircraft: aeroplanes, hot air balloons, and rockets. In groups of three, students were encouraged to choose one type of aircraft to research, make, and later present to their parents. Students in Year 6 came to visit the younger students and guided the classes on how to build model aircraft. Year 7 students came into the classes to guide and support the younger students on how to use an app called Book Creator on their iPads, which the Year 1 students used to create books about the type of aircraft they selected. Year 1 parents were later welcomed to an 'Aviation Superstar Day' at school during which the Year 1 students had booths to showcase their aircraft and instructions on how to make a model.
According to Ms Gannon, “The children learnt so much throughout this project, from communication skills to transferable skills, as well as learning how to collaborate in groups. Every part of this project led up to a wonderful day in which the children taught their parents all they had learnt about aircraft. They say to master a skill, you have to be able to teach it, and all the children did an incredible job at demonstrating their amazing skills!”
Across the river at YCIS Pudong Secondary, Year 9 students are currently working on a Science project in which they are learning about bacteria, viruses, and how diseases are spread. They are working with their teacher, Mr Gayan Perera, on this unit, and doing experiments around the school to look at different concentrations of bacteria. A doctor from a medical clinic will then talk with the students about how hospitals and clinics keep things hygienic and sterile. The students will then take these ideas on board and make a series of proposals for initiatives for the school. This type of PBL mimics scenarios students might encounter in their working lives later on.
According to YCIS Pudong Secondary Vice-Principal Mr Dusten Kent, the weekend workshop session was a great success. “One of the biggest takeaways for many members who participated in the conference was clearly identifying the difference between 'project work' and what is actually 'Project-Based Learning' (PBL). A PBL approach is less prescriptive and allows for more personalised and differentiated learning than traditional subject lessons. Through carefully planned PBL units, teachers adopt an enquiry-based approach which allows students to learn via authentic projects that require sustained engagement, collaboration, research, management of resources, and the development of a performance or product. Students further develop core skills in communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity. It is through professional learning opportunities such as this workshop that teachers can be better equipped with the strategies to help students develop these skills,” he said. “Education has certainly moved away from ‘the sage on the stage’ concept where the teacher is the sole deliverer of the content, to an educational model where the students are at the centre of their own learning with the teacher acting as more of a facilitator than a lecturer."
Mr Don Collins, Western Co-Principal of YCIS Puxi reiterated how YCIS is a shining example to other schools, saying, “We are leading the way in the application of innovative practices and the building of teacher capacity to find the very best forward-looking methodologies for the benefit our students.”