How to implement project-based learning with digital portfolios

The Nerdy Teacher, Nicholas Provenzano, shares how teachers can support a generation of makers through PBL
Nicholas Provenzano, TheNerdyTeacher.com
August 4, 2020

A student working on a project-based learning at home

This is a guest post by Nicholas Provenzano, the award-winning educator and best-selling author behind The Nerdy Teacher.

As a teacher that approaches learning through projects, portfolios are very important to me.

As students learn new skills, it is important to have them document those new skills in a way that is accessible. As teachers, it is important that we work hard to support a generation of makers instead of a generation of consumers.

Traditional grades are not effective in telling a whole story of what a person knows.

Read: Focusing on feedback over grades

Project-based learning with digital portfolios

Project-based learning with portfolios helps tell the story of what a student has learned through showcasing artifacts of their learning.

There are a few steps any teacher can take to implement project-based learning in their classroom.

Define

The first thing a teacher needs to do is have a clear definition of what it is a student is supposed to know. It might be a specific skill like coding or multiplying fractions.

Whatever that skill is, it needs to be clearly defined for the teacher AND for the student. Having a clear understanding of what is supposed to be learned informs the students on how they might approach that learning.

Provide

As the teacher, it is key to make sure to provide access to all of the materials a student might need to learn the skill. This might be books, websites, videos, etc. If you want the student to engage in the research themselves, then you should be providing support as needed.

There is a common misconception that project-based learning has students doing all of the work and the teachers just sit back and do the crossword.

Teachers are very active during project-based learning if it has been implemented correctly.

Discuss

Always make time for check-ins with students to see how the research and learning are coming along.

Once students get to the point where they are ready to demonstrate their learning through the creation of an artifact, it is important to discuss the creation process. That feedback is key because it allows the student to walk through their ideas and become stronger in their understanding of the material.

Share

Make sure there is an opportunity for the students to share their learning through a presentation of their artifact. Sharing gives the student the chance to showcase their learning to the whole class. It is important to give the students a wider audience so they can share in their learning.

It is also a great way for everyone to review the material as each person shares their learning. Being able to articulate what was researched, what was made, and what was learned is important in all content areas, and presenting to the class is a great way to support this idea.

Document

When everything is all done, it is important to document this work. That is where portfolios come in hand.

Digital portfolios allow students to document all of the work they have done and they can carry that with them through all of their schooling.

Imagine a student applying to colleges and being able to share multiple years of work to showcase their growth as a writer, builder, researcher, etc. By having all of these artifacts documented, colleges and employers can get a much better picture of the student and what they have accomplished and what they are capable of in the future.

Project-based learning is an important approach in the classroom if we want students to focus on creation instead of consumption. By taking these steps, a teacher can help support students who are looking to enhance their understanding of concepts covered in class and then be able to showcase that learning through the creation of artifacts that can be shared in their portfolio.

If we want our students to be able to solve the world’s problems, then we need to focus more on creativity and less on consumption.

Connect with Nick Provenzano

The Nerdy Teacher LLC is run by Nicholas Provenzano. He is an award-winning educator and best selling author who has travelled the world promoting best practices in education. He has been featured on CNN, Education Week, The New York Times, and other media outlets.  

Nicholas Provenzano, TheNerdyTeacher.com

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