Why I love Project Based Learning

BETT 2015 speaker profile: Gail Abbitt, Technology Integration Specialist, St Julian’s School

In my teaching practice (and in my own learning) I have always been a believer in the old adage ‘we learn by doing’. For me, the combination of a Bring Your Own Devices scheme (BYOD) and Project Based Learning (PBL) have provided the perfect combination to make this happen.   

One thing I loved about teaching Media Studies was the inclusion of a production unit. At KS3 I would get my students to plan and make a documentary film. They would have the freedom to choose (with obvious exceptions) their own topic. I would always advise them to take advantage of this opportunity and tell them to make a film about something they were passionate about. This was an opportunity to get their voice heard. Over the years, students have made documentaries on topics such as the representation of women/men in the media, teenage parents, living with Cerebral Palsy, the plight of the homeless, and the pressures placed upon teenagers today.

Once students had decided on their idea they would work on their concept and planning; this is basically where they outline their idea, do further research, identify contributors, locations, work out their budget, identify issues and come up with a contingency plan, discuss legal issues and ethical considerations. They would then have to produce it.

As a teacher it’s really interesting to take a step back and facilitate this process and try to make it as much of a ‘real world’ experience as possible. At the beginning it is amazing how many students would stroll into class looking for a camera because ‘they have an interview arranged at lunch time,’ only to be told that they were all booked! Students soon learnt the importance of being organised and coming up with alternative solutions such as using their mobile phones instead. I would also hear from students, ‘I emailed them a week ago and they haven’t replied!’ When I asked if they had tried phoning they would look at me as if I had suggested something akin to torture! Second important lesson learnt, the need for verbal communication skills. I remember one group who wanted to make a documentary about underage drinking and was hoping to film at a party. This led to a great conversation about the legality of the filming and the ethical issues associated with this; ‘what if this footage ended up on the internet? What if future employers were to see this?’   

In my opinion, more in-depth, authentic learning opportunities presented themselves during this unit than at any other point in the course. The students were not only learning content (documentary history, conventions, modes etc.) but important life skills. I remember a student bursting into my class telling me all about her experience filming at a Comic Expo, and how she didn’t think she had the confidence to approach strangers for interviews but she did it and has now set up an interview with the event organiser, ‘I love this – this is what I want to do!’ she told me. 

Gail will be taking to the stage in the Schools Learn Live: Primary and Secondary Theatre on Wednesday 21 January at 4.45 pm. Her session will be titled “Supporting Teachers with Blended Learning”.

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