By Mark T. Burke
Project Based Learning (PBL), Graduation Projects, team, short and long-term projects, these are all common educational frameworks in our K-12 schools. I call them frameworks because they are more than “assignment types.” Yes, students are assigned projects. But, those projects are not isolated activities. They are connected (or should be) to previously acquired knowledge and skills as well as lead toward new knowledge and skills. And, projects are often interdisciplinary. Math is connected to science, science to social studies, social studies to art, and so on. Projects by definition in our K-12 school systems are from my perspective: “Opportunities for students to connect a variety of subject knowledge to build solutions to complex problems.”
Looking at the most popular trend today, PBL, there are several definitions.
“Project-based learning is a dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge.” Edutopica (https://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning)
“Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.” BIE (https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl)
The trend is certainly valid. Exposing K-12 students with real-world problems to solve is a fantastic educational framework. In fact, I believe all work students complete should serve as some type of a valuable output to something bigger (more specifically defined than simply getting a good grade or earning a diploma). While we in education space have spent time developing what PBL (and projects overall) should include and provide, more thought is needed in regards to actually managing those projects. Yes, we can guide students through the work for a project using a series of reflection and inquiry questions. But, in order to work on a project OVER TIME, students need a structure to stay on track, communicate progress, share results, and determine project success.
Many may not know that Project Management (PM) is a field of study. PM dependent industries exist across our economy. These industries require highly skilled PMs (those who have earned degrees or are specifically PM certified). I don’t want to trivialize the field of PM study but for K-12 students, there is no need for a complete PM certification program. In fact, I believe use of a good PM tool can meet many of the PM needs for students.
I use DaPulse for all of my client-based work. The more time I spend in this tool, the more I recognize how valuable the tool would be in a K-12 environment. The tool provides a simple to use interface for listing tasks (Work Breakdown Structure), documenting dates (Earliest Start Dates, Earliest Completion Date, and any other customized date), notes (Status, text based updates), people (Responsibility Roles), and more. For each task, a complete communication channel can be created for the team including comments, updates, files and even social media style “reactions.”
Why are these features important? Because they point to the valuable skills we should be spending time addressing as we support students on the PBL journey. If teachers simply added a tool such as DaPulse into the workflow of their PBL opportunities, and explained the core features, students would be exposed to topics including:
- Planning: Breaking down complex tasks into a set of actionable, measurable efforts.
- Inputs: Assimilating information valuable to the start and ongoing management of the project.
- Time Estimation: Determining the efforts to complete the tasks requires thinking about the effort and relating it to efforts the student is familiar with. This requires extrapolation.
- Status: Updates require tracking and communication.
- Reporting: Developing stories and showcasing data.
- Outputs: Showcasing real products.
If these topics are not directly addressed, PBL and projects overall, exist as assignments to be completed and checked off like compliance issues. If a PM tool is used in the classroom, students have a hands-on method of teaching themselves about the value of planning and ultimately results.
Another reason to support growth in PM skills is the direct relationship to possible careers. PM skills are in growing demand. For more information on this topic, please review this report from PMI (The Project Management Institute, the world’s leading PM Organization).
How have you taught PM skills or used a PM tool to benefit your students?