by Karen Diaz and Diana Roy
Teachers are continually looking for teaching methods that engage their students and leave them with the skills and habits of mind that will make them lifelong learners and productive citizens. English teachers and special education teachers at Michael E. Smith Middle School in South Hadley are working with Western Massachusetts Writing Project teacher consultants during their professional development time this school year to learn about Project-Based Learning and develop units that will accomplish just that.
After embarking on a study of Project-Based Learning (PBL), Understanding by Design (UbD), and Universal Design for Learning (UDL), teachers have met in small grade-level teams to develop Project-Based Learning units. The units of study are incorporating ideas from UDL, UbD, and Writing Project components into a Project-Based Learning format that addresses the curriculum standards for their grade level.
The units in development are exciting! Students in grade 5 are researching global hunger, and they will develop activist-driven, authentic projects to make a positive impact in their town and beyond. Grade 6 students hope to make a difference in their school community as they research Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) at Michael E. Smith Middle, as well as at other local schools, and develop projects and presentations that will suggest improvements to their local PBIS program. Students in both grades will develop skills in interviewing, research, writing, presentation, and outreach.
In grade 7, students will research the persuasive techniques used in advertisement. Their projects involve creating their own ads and educating others about the effects of advertising. The goal for grade 8 students is to promote community outreach and build relationships by writing children’s books and sharing them with the local elementary school. Teachers hope that with this authentic audience, students will more deeply comprehend the concepts of theme and narrative technique, as well as give greater attention to generating, revising, and editing a written product.
Teacher-consultants from WMWP have guided this work with after-school professional development classes, coaching observations, and on-line discussions. The work will culminate with teachers sharing their PBL units and student work with the school community.
Over the next few weeks, teachers will support their students in choosing and implementing authentic projects. As the classes move through the lessons and project development, everyone involved--teachers and students alike--will engage in the reflection needed to make project-based learning a meaningful experience for all.
Note: Image shows Grade 8 ELA teacher Amber Georges and special education teacher Lauren Barthelette planning a PBL unit.