Getting Started With PBL in Social Studies
“Do I have to go to history class?” I wonder. “It’s so dull!”
What is the point of learning about revolutions we weren’t even alive to witness?
Those are just a few examples of the kinds of comments I used to get from my students, and I remember making some of the same ones myself back in high school. It was project-based learning (PBL) that inspired me to become a teacher because I wanted to make my classes more fun and engaging. Project-based learning is a learning experience in which students investigate real-world problems that interest them and develop solutions that demonstrate their learning for an audience other than their teacher or fellow students.
Personalized learning requires extensive planning, but it is worthwhile in my opinion because it fosters high levels of student engagement and requires students to use critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication skills to achieve success.
When I wanted to create a PBL unit for my high school Latin American Studies class, I couldn’t find any examples that were appropriate for my course (although there are some excellent examples at PBLWorks), so I made one from scratch. It is necessary to attend hourlong classes twice a week for three to four weeks to complete this unit.
To bring the Latin American revolutions from their dusty pages in textbooks and into the twenty-first century, I created this project in 2010. What differentiates it from other projects I’ve seen is that I had students role-play as Latin American revolutionaries in order to gain a historical perspective on the subject.
PBL IN SOCIAL STUDIES IN 5 STEPS
1. Develop a question for students to respond to in their project, such as: How to solve a current problem affecting a Latin American country of the students’ choosing served as the overarching question in my unit. I gave them the following assignment: “You are a revolutionary in your country at the age of seventeen. You have been given the ability to make one positive change in your country’s future in exchange for your efforts. What would you make different? “How and why would you change it?” you might wonder.
Investigating the political, social, and economic causes of previous revolutions assisted them in identifying problems that would arise in 2020. I used the role-play to gain students’ buy-in; the students’ perspective encouraged them to take greater ownership of the process of finding a feasible solution to make their country a better place. Students communicated their solutions through a blog or video diary, and they could work in pairs or in groups to complete the assignment.
Students should be given plenty of time to investigate their problems and solutions. I provided scaffolds to aid in their learning while they were conducting their research. Scaffolds could be in the form of mini-lectures or videos. I conducted whole-class discussions to give students an idea of what they should look for in their research; in distance learning, I used the chat function in our video conferencing application or posted discussion questions in our learning management system. Students developed a rubric to evaluate their projects and established learning objectives in order to hold themselves accountable.
Have students organise and visualise their research: Students could use digital graphic organisers to begin plotting which problem they would like to focus on and brainstorming possible solutions to that problem. They collaborated on rough draughts with project rubrics, which could be completed asynchronously or synchronously as needed.
This is the point at which teachers should organise an authentic audience for students to present their work to. Depending on the project, this audience could include community leaders, families, or other individuals. This year, I did not invite an outside audience; instead, students presented to their families and the rest of the class.
4. Allow students to create their stories: I gave them the freedom to choose the applications they would use to create their final products, which would detail their solution to the problem they hoped to solve. It was their authentic products that they developed, and they did so through the use of either a blog or a video diary, creating a day-by-day chronicle of their problem along with the solution they planned to implement and the impact they hoped the solution would have on their country.
5. Students present their final projects to an authentic audience: In project-based learning units, students present their final project to an authentic audience. If students were uncomfortable presenting live over Zoom, I allowed them to record their presentation as a Flipgrid video. In distance learning, I required students to present live over Zoom. It’s also important to provide an opportunity for audience feedback on the projects under consideration.
As a final step, both the students and I engaged in self-reflection, which allowed me to gauge my students’ perceptions of the project, workflow, and effectiveness of the lesson. As a teacher, it is critical for me to take time to reflect on what went well and what could be improved upon. I recommend that you also critique the project with your content team in order to identify any tweaks that can be made so that you can fine-tune the goals that you want to achieve by the end of the project.
A student-centered learning environment is created through project-based learning, which allows students to go beyond just learning facts and deeply explore real-world issues with a focus on developing solutions.