In order to help students gain knowledge and skills, a teacher should adopt various methods, like: student-centred, project-based, high-tech or inquiry-based learning. A complex method aimed at developing students’ 21st century ”by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge” is the project-based learning (PBL).
The aim of this article is to present the project-based learning method used in the eTwinning project ”Sustainable development for future”, a brief presentation of the activities carried out in this project, their outcomes, the benefits and challenges of using it for both teachers and students as well as the teachers’ and students’ roles.
Thirteen 17-year-old students from Colegiul National ‘Mihai Eminescu’, Petrosani, Romania were involved in this project together with other students from 10 partner schools from Turkey, Lithuania, Italy, Romania and Azerbaijan (a total of 163 students). It was a 7-month eTwinning project (October 2021- April 2022) which aimed at developing students’ 21st century skills, such as: research, analysis, problem-solving, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication skills, learning-to-learn and digital competences. Through this project, the students became more responsible citizens, were more aware of the global problems and of the environmental issues, politics, society, geography, history of the countries they chose to do research on.
The originality of the project is given by the topic which is a current one concerning issues that people face on a daily basis. They worked both during the English classes and after school in mixed country teams, individually or in pairs to do research, to find solutions to problems, to write resolution papers, to make presentations, videos, posters, leaflets etc. and followed the steps below each month:
- First, they voted the UNESCO SDGs they wanted to do research on (SDG 2- Zero hunger, SDG 5- Gender equality, SDG 6- Clean water and sanitation, SDG 13- Climate action) and chose a country whose UN delegates they were.
- They worked on the chosen SDGs by answering open-ended questions.
- Each team had online meetings during which they presented the results of the research and each student offered solutions to solve the problem on a provided Padlet link.
- With the solutions, two students wrote each team’s UN resolution paper.
- Finally, they created other outcomes based on the research (‘providing solutions to problems’ essay, leaflets, posters, videos etc.)
For each SDG, the students followed the same steps, so it became like a routine with which they soon got used to. Besides that, they attended two webinars with a special guest, Harry Waters, to learn more about certain SGDs (SDG 2 and SDG 13). Harry Waters is a teacher, teacher trainer, founder of Renewable English- a free climate change awareness course aimed at people learning English and hoping to improve their ecoliteracy.
To celebrate ‘Safer Internet Day’, the coordinators of the project organized a webinar on e-safety with Mrs Şirin Moğulkoç Genceli, eSafety Label Turkey Ambassador. She talked about the importance of the “eSafety label” and how it is obtained by a school; the risks of the digital world, some pieces of advice in order to be a good digital citizen; how to use the Internet safely and about the ‘digital footprint’. Regarding cyberbullying, both teachers and students learned how to identify a teenager who is a victim of cyberbullying, its consequences, the cyberbullying signs and what a victim can do.
The students collaborated with their peers to create the final outcomes. The visible outcomes are a proof that the project’s goals were achieved. All the project products were uploaded on TwinSpace: an ebook with ‘providing solutions to problems’ essays for SDG 2; posters and leaflets for SDG 6; an epuzzle for SDG 5; a video with the song: “We are the world” and one with slogans for Earth Day. They experienced working as members of a team when they created the logo or exchanged New Year postcards on a Padlet link. They collaborated to describe their schools, cities and countries and created guides, presentations and videos; uploaded their works on Canva and Myposterwall. They also collaborated to write slogans for Climate action and then, to make a video which was uploaded on Flipgrid. Each month, two or three students chosen by the teachers wrote the resolution papers based on the solutions provided by UN delegates collaborating with their foreign partners.using web 2.0 tools.
Among the invisible outcomes, there are the skills developed and improved by the students, like: critical thinking and communication skills, creativity, imagination and collaboration; they learned how to use web 2.0 tools and TwinSpace; they improved learning to learn and digital competences; they used web 2.0 tools to display their creativity and imagination. All the project outcomes can we found on the project blog: sustainabledevelopmentforfuture.blogspot.com.
While doing research, in this project, the students learned about different subjects simultaneously and used the knowledge acquired during these classes (history, geography, economy etc.). Each SDG represents a real- world problem, so, the students did research on each SDG, found solutions which they presented using a web 2.0 tool to make them known. In this way, the real-world problems were brought into the classroom and the students collaborated and used multiple methods of communication (writing, speaking, visual presentations) to make them known.
While implementing this method, the following benefits and challenges were identified for both students and teachers.
Benefits for students:
- they are kept engaged and their attitudes towards education are improved;
- they are engaged in real-world learning situations which give them a deeper understanding of concepts through relevant and authentic experiences;
- they are deeply engaged with the content which helps them increase long- term retention;
- through open-ended questions students are encouraged to use the skills and knowledge they have acquired;
- they learn how to learn independently, how to use technology to find resources, how to communicate and produce a final outcome using various web 2.0 tools;
- they are actively involved as this is a student-based approach;
- they have autonomy in what they make and how;
- compared to traditional teaching methods, PBL offers students the possibility to remember things better;
- they learn knowledge and develop skills they will apply out of school;
- they enrich their vocabulary, especially if they have to do the activities in a foreign language.
Benefits for teachers:
- they teach the importance of collaboration and creative problem-solving skills, how to find the right sources of information, how to use the right web 2.0 tools, how to build independent learning skills;
- they can take inspiration from students for problems and ideas;
- they can invite professionals in the field related to a particular topic to help students understand better the topic they have to do research on;
- if they apply PBL in their teaching activity, they can use multiple ways of assessing students at different stages of the project;
- they can collaborate with their colleagues, with their students and experts to plan the project, to do the activities, to clarify certain aspects etc.
Challenges/ Disadvantages for teachers:
- it can’t be applied in all school subjects;
- they will have to develop different criteria for different stages of the project;
- it’s time consuming because they have to prepare the steps of the project, to supervise the students, to coordinate them, to guide them, to encourage them etc.;
- the activities have to be suitable for the students’ level, so the teacher should know them very well to be sure if they can or cannot do the activities.
Challenges/ Disadvantages for students:
- due to hyper-focus on product creation, students will not develop and apply certain skills;
- they have to know the steps of the project, the products they have to hand in and how they will work/ collaborate from the very beginning, otherwise they will not meet the project aims and the deadlines;
- it’s time consuming because they have to do a lot of research, analyse the information, select it, create the final product, follow the steps of the project on time etc.;
- some activities might be difficult and they will feel demotivated.
The open-ended questions are essential in project-based learning because when answering them, students have to apply the existing knowledge and the skills they have already developed. They also have to come up with a solution in the form of a final product. So, they develop their creativity.
In this type of method, the teacher can have various roles, different from the ones they have in traditional teaching methods, depending on the activities of the project. At the beginning of the project, they are designers. They have to plan everything carefully, to understand what is engaging to students, to create authentic experiences for them and include activities that develop students’ both knowledge and skills. Then, throughout the project, they collaborate with the students they coordinate, with other teachers and experts in order to do the activities and act as collaborators. If they are involved in an international project like the one mentioned above, they can share not only ideas, but also duties. They also have to be facilitators to create a friendly and safe atmosphere for all the students in order to feel comfortable, to work effectively and thrive. They are also learners, just like the students they coordinate, eager to learn new things, to explore new project ideas, and ways of working with PBL.
The students also play different roles. For example, they are researchers. They have to do a lot of research in order to do the activities of the project, to answer the open-ended questions, to create the products etc. They are also collaborators as PBL involves a lot of pair and group work. They collaborate not only with their peers and the teachers, but also with experts to obtain information, to learn and clarify certain misunderstandings. They are mentors for their peers. They teach them how to use certain web 2.0 tools, how to solve a problem, how to do a final product, they share with them their knowledge, so they are a source of inspiration and information not only for their peers, but also for their teachers.
All in all, project-based learning has both benefits and challenges for teachers and students. The activities were done either during the classes or after the classes, as extra-curricular activities. All the students were actively involved, collaborated very well, learned from their peers how to use various web 2.0 tools they were not familiar with, exchanged information etc. Because the project was an international one, involving students from 10 countries, the language used was English, so they improved their English-speaking skills, which was one of the aims of the project. It was a worthwhile experience which should be applied by all the teachers if they consider it is suitable for the subject they are teaching because not only the students, but also the teachers have a lot to learn.