August 30, 2016

by Caroline Murray

For me, there is no better way to kickstart collaboration in the classroom than project-based learning! Project-based learning (PBL) creates an atmosphere of cooperation, community, and teamwork that is sure to engage and challenge all students.

PBL is an educational strategy that puts real-life, intensive projects at the heart of learning. It’s perfect for all ages, from kindergarten through university, and is one of the best ways to captivate and motivate students.

Much like a typical unit, PBL projects are designed around key learning outcomes. However, instead of teacher-centered lectures and individual student practice, teachers develop a driving question that student groups must answer through in-depth investigation, problem-solving and cooperation. During the course of the PBL project, students work in groups to discover the information they need to achieve the lesson outcomes. Integrated into each project are self- and peer- evaluations that give students the opportunity to reflect on their progress as well as assess and review the work and contributions of their group members. These assessment strategies help shift student—and teacher—focus to include the development of “soft skills” including collaboration, cooperation, teamwork, and self-awareness.

Here’s an example of a collaborative, classroom-community building PBL project about Travel Agents developed for 7–12th grade Modern Language classes using the approach detailed by the Buck Institute for Education. The elements described are small segments of a much larger project.

Driving Question: How can we as travel agents plan a fun cultural experience in the Spanish-speaking world for our peers with a fixed budget? This open-ended driving question encourages student groups to think critically and conduct an in-depth investigation of all aspects of trip-planning and then develop their own solutions.

Task Division: Teams work together to evenly divide the jobs of the Task List among the group members. To complete Task 1, for example, groups must research potential trip destinations. Before the groups make their final decisions, each group member researches a different part of the Spanish-speaking world and presents their findings to their team. Each week students complete Task List Assessments where they evaluate their own work and that of their group members. PBL projects like this one require that students complete all of the work in teams, which emphasizes student accountability and cooperation, thus building important team skills that extend well beyond the project.

Culminating Event: Travel Exposition Role Play Activity. At the project’s end, all groups participate in a role-play activity where they act the part of travel agents to “sell” their trip to “prospective clients” (students from other Spanish classes). This is the final opportunity for the groups to showcase their work in a way that requires cooperation among group members and fosters community among Spanish learners school-wide.

With PBL, learners develop critical skills such as teamwork, cooperation, and critical thinking through rigorous, collaborative, and student-driven work. It’s a sure-fire way to kickstart classroom collaboration!


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Caroline Murray

Caroline Murray

Caroline Murray is a Spanish teacher at Presentation High School in San Jose, California. She has taught at the high school and college level and is dedicated to using technology to create innovative and immersive Spanish-learning experiences. She is completing a graduate certificate in Integration of Educational Technology from Boise State University and regularly contributes to education tech-centered professional development at her school.

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