Project based learning in an integrated curriculum – students’ perspectives

As Term 2 draws to a close I have surveyed my students again on their perception of classroom learning. I regularly gather and analyse feedback from my students in order to inform my future directions in designing their learning activities. Every week my students complete a “Reflection of my learning” survey and at the end of each term they complete a survey where they evaluate the teaching and learning of the term.

a screenshot of the reflection of my learning survey

This term has been my second term teaching an integrated curriculum class. I teach just one Year 7 class this year. I have this class for English, Maths, Science, Geography and History. This means that lessons often have content from a mixture of KLAs. This is a middle years initiative my school is implementing for the first time. The aim is to allow a smoother primary-secondary transition and to implement best practices in teaching and learning for middle years students.

Over the last two terms, I have also been experimenting with project based learning. My Year 7 class work on long term projects where on two hours every Monday and Friday, they work in teams on their projects. Our two latest projects are the 60 second science project (a combination of Science and English) and the Parthenon Project (a combination of History and Maths). In these projects, each team work at their own pace and they have choice over certain aspects of the project such us the method of presentation, the content, etc. To see some work samples from these projects, visit our class blog.

So what do the students think? Here are the main themes from the results:

Integrated Curriculum is most of the students’ favourite subject. (Note that in Term 1 PDPHE was most students’ favourite subject)

A pie graph showing students' favourite subjects

The reasons cited by students for Integrated Curriculum being their favourite subject followed several themes, which were:

  • Having learning activities they thought was fun and interesting
  • Having an enthusiastic teacher who makes the class fun and interesting
  • Students noticing how they improved – We have been implementing the goals, medals and missions model of feedback over these two terms. I don’t give out marks or grades.
  • Project based learning – Students mentioned how they liked having more freedom and choice over the way they presented their learning in these projects. One student mentioned that most lessons are about getting “the right answer” while she is able to express herself more creatively in projects
  • Learning different subjects together
  • Doing science experiments – The most interesting thing from this was that students mentioned how they enjoyed doing experiments where they did not know what will happen. They also mentioned how they liked experiments that allowed them to see changes overtime. We have been doing a lot of science experiments where the content was a mixture of science and geography. They were environmental science activities from Murder Under the Microscope where experiments required observations over several days. Students did not mention they enjoyed science experiments because they involved explosions or flames, which are often mentioned by students in previous year groups.
Students were also asked how much they enjoyed particular types of learning activities and how much they thought they learnt from them. The top three activities that students enjoyed learning were also the activities they felt they learnt the most from.
bar graph showing students' enjoyment of activities
bar graph showing how much students thought they learnt from different activities

When asked in the survey whether they would like to continue project based learning in Term 3, 100% of students answered yes. In my observations and conversations with students, they clearly enjoy project based learning and are on task most of the time. From my observations they are also learning important skills in self-regulation, time management and team work, which will become increasingly important in their later years of high school. From my conversations with students, many of them often say Mondays and Friday’s are their favourite days because they have “project time” and they get very disappointed when I have to sometimes move their project sessions to different days due to learning spaces and resources being booked out.

So where to now?

Well for one thing, I really want to lead my faculty in using data such as these weekly reflections and surveys to drive future directions in teaching and learning. I have found the weekly surveys to be an invaluable source of information to inform my teaching. Yes they take a long time to analyse but I have felt that my own teaching has improved massively because of it.

I am also going to continue project based learning. PBL has been a highly stressful experience at times (see my previous posts). Students enjoy doing them and feel they are learning lots from it. Their formal assessment results also show they are achieving highly as well. So it’s a win-win situation 🙂

I find it interesting that the results show such a positive response for science. There is a trend for students in Year 7/8 to lose interest in science. Many science teachers think that students need to be engaged through explosive experiments. My Year 7s’ survey responses show a different story. They liked experiments which were long term and where they did not know the results before doing the experiment. This data will allow us to better design science learning for our other students.

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