Project-based learning isn't a new concept in the field of education. In fact, an ancient Chinese proverb sums up the learning and teaching style well: Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand.
“The bottom line is most people learn by doing,” said Jeffrey Nowak, associate professor of science education at IPFW. Vocational training is very similar and has been around for decades, Nowak said.
Project-based learning, or PBL, is “an old idea in a new wrapper.” What has changed is the application or how that style of teaching and learning is implemented in the classroom. As PBL has caught on the traditional look of a classroom has changed, particularly with the introduction of technology.
Classrooms used to be a space with desks lined up in rows, a chalkboard, and a lectern at the front where the teacher stood, holding all the knowledge. This has been a concept that architectural firm SchenkelShultz saw coming and has been designing spaces to foster student-centered learning, or 21st century classrooms.
The firm, with an office in Fort Wayne and many in the southeast part of the country, has extensive experience in both K-12 and higher education and recently secured a contract with the U.S. military to incorporate its concepts of the 21st century classroom into 194 military schools.
“When it comes to design, a mobile design is best,” said Nowak. “When students are locked into a certain layout, if not prohibitive, it's less ideal.”
Classrooms should be able to be arranged for different projects or even for presentations, also a part of PBL. PBL is at the center of the curriculum for the New Tech Network of which Wayne New Tech Academy in Fort Wayne Community Schools is a part.
Principal Liz Bryan believes that the style will catch on and spread to all schools.
“We have to do something to keep up with our kids and their interests outside of school,” she said. But creating a 21st century classroom comes at a cost, one that many districts can't afford at this time. FWCS spokeswoman Krista Stockman said even with the district's upcoming $119 million building project, it won't be able financially to implement many of the aspects of SchenkelShultz 21st century classroom.
Stockman said teachers often find other ways to make classrooms more conducive to project-based learning, like arranging desks in groups and pulling students into the hallway for smaller-group work.
SchenkelShultz architect Cory Miller said while he thinks there are many positive aspects of PBL, it may not be right for all students.
“I really gravitate toward project-based learning,” said SchenkelShultz architect Doug Routh, who also worked on the project at Wayne New Tech. “I see the benefits, but one size doesn't fit all.”