Project-Based Learning in the Middle School, According to Middle Schoolers

We’ve heard from the teachers about their PBL experience, so now it’s time to learn from the students themselves. We asked nine members of the Class of 2020 about their favorite PBL; the difference it made because they pursued a topic of interest rather than a one given to them; and one thing they learned about themselves and/or the world through PBL.

Adia Guthrie ‘20

My favorite PBL was the Conservation Conversation project in science, and it focused on the conservation efforts that can & should be made to help save endangered species.

Because we got to choose the animal we got to work on, I was really excited to find ways to conserve my animal. Since this was something of personal interest, I was eager to begin and I didn’t really need cues from the teacher. Not only was I self-motivated, but I was also dedicated to my project because I was no longer doing it for a grade, but for the growth of my personal knowledge and understanding of this animal.

The Conservation Conversation PBL changed my viewpoint of the world because it helped me really understand that everything is connected. It helped me realize that the Earth really depends on humans to change the direction that the Earth is going in. It emphasized to me that I have a choice and that I can choose to be part of the Earth’s problem or solution, and that I have to act on my choice.

Anna Hwang ‘20

My favorite PBL was the Conservation Conversation for Science. It was all about endangered animals and the conservation of them. In this project, we got to express creativity. Since I have an interest in drawing and the arts, I had fun painting my animal. [However,] it didn’t change my view of the world, because I already knew that animals were going extinct.

Riley Levine ‘20

My favorite PBL project was our 8th grade MAD (Making A Difference) project. This project was a multimedia social change/social movement project. We began by researching something that we are mad about, and then decided to make a difference about that issue. After researching, we created both a PSA and a website to not only raise awareness for the topic, but also to make a difference. As a person of Jewish descent, I have a strong connection to Israel. Following the news led me to observe how different media biases play out in the reporting of stories. For my project, I chose to try to raise awareness for this important cause. The way that I decided to present this issue was by giving examples of the facts, and then examples of how the news portrayed those facts. I highlighted how the news headlines could be perceived and how the facts differed. Additionally, I chose to devote half of the project to all of the important contributions that Israel makes to the world (that do not get media attention). By doing this, I was able to give the topic some levity and make it more relatable for the reader.

For the most part, PBL projects are my favorite way to learn. This is because I get to pursue a topic of personal interest. When pursuing a topic which I care about or one which I am interested in, I become more engaged. I find myself working harder to make it better, and I also find that I have more room to be creative and make it original. I would directly correlate this increase in motivation to the room in which I have to use my own ideas or to shape the project, and to the fact that the topic actually relates to me.

By doing the MAD project, I was able to gain a greater understanding of how complex the world really is. Before this project, I knew that the Middle East, more specifically Israel, was a very complex and nuanced topic; however, I did not realize the extent to which I would have to be mindful of the way I presented the information so that my target audience would listen. Through this project, I was able to realize that it is essential to be a mindful media consumer, instead of one that reads a headline without looking for the facts. Additionally, I was able to learn how one person can really make a difference in the world. Though I have not yet launched my website, I feel as though when it is launched, I too will make an impact on the world. This project taught me the skills necessary to create a movement [as well as] how society and social change work.

Ryan Levine ‘20

I think the White House Letter in social studies was my favorite PBL because, in my opinion, it had the most to do with what we were studying and it enabled me to pick a conflict of my choice.

Being able to pursue a topic I chose was very important to my success. I felt more engaged and genuinely interested in the material I wrote about and researched. This made it easier to go through the entire process.

I would say that the White House Letter in social studies changed my view of the world. We had to find and write about a major conflict that currently affects the United States. I learned more about how other countries in our world interact and how they function.

Paige McCullough ‘20

My favorite PBL is experimental design in science class. This project is focused on how to organize and create a lab, with just your groupmates. It is teaching me how to experiment properly, teamwork, and how to manage work for lab reports. It is a blast, and I can’t wait to see my group’s final product.

Doing PBL projects increased my motivation and enjoyment. Usually, if you weren’t interested in something, you would just have to do it. But with the PBL projects, you have just the right amount of freedom that makes the unit almost tailored to you, but doesn’t have you feeling lost. It increases my motivation, and I hope to do more of these in the future.

The project that changed my view of the world was our English project. In this PBL, we wrote a poem about our lives, with some things people might not know about you. We later made a video to go along with it. It made me realize just how different we all are, even if we all are friends.

Kirin Mueller ‘20

My favorite PBL was the MaD Project in history. For this project we were asked to answer the question: “What in this world makes you MaD?” MaD stands for making a difference, and we each chose an issue we were passionate about. We created a PSA video and a website, and presented all of our work to the class and other members of the school.

The fact that I could choose what my topic was about made the project much more interesting to me. I could pursue a topic that I liked & was passionate about, and that made creating my project much easier. I was never bored working on the MaD PBL (I do get bored sometimes in classes) and I didn’t put it off or procrastinate because it was something I was really excited about.

The MaD PBL changed my view of the world because I could see that no matter how perfect we think our world is, there are so many issues that need a solution. I realized that our school and our community is really very lucky to have such a great life, because so many others in this nation and in this world struggle every day with putting food on the table, facing violence, having a negative view about themselves, not being able to go to school, or not having the opportunities we have.

Alexandra Pappas ‘20

My favorite Project-Based Learning project was the monument Spanish project, where we created and learned about different monuments from different centuries. Each group was assigned a different century to focus on, and then the group chose a monument from that century that was located in a Spanish-speaking country. Each group compared its monument to some of the buildings in the United States, and saw how the Hispanic monuments influenced the creation of monuments in the United States. In addition, each group had to figure out multiple ways for the Hispanic monument to become more accessible to the public. Although there was a lot of research involved with this project, it was worth it in the end because we learned about the history of the United States and Hispanic countries from our individual research and from hearing the class presentations.

Researching something that is interesting to you will always give you more confidence and motivation to finish it, which is why my Spanish PBL project was so much fun. I enjoyed the Spanish PBL project because it didn’t focus on only one country. It focused on two countries and allowed us to compare the United States to a Hispanic country. The project allowed us to learn about different lifestyles. I was consistently interested in what my partner and I researched because we chose an interesting monument, which is why we had such a fun time doing the project.

My Spanish PBL project changed my view of the world because I learned that a lot of people in cities in Hispanic countries live in poverty. For our Spanish project, we had to choose a monument in a Hispanic country, compare it to a similar monument in the United States, and figure out a way for the Hispanic monument to become more accessible to the community in that country. My partner and I generated multiple ideas to help children and adults in poverty become more aware of our educational monument. It is not fair that children and adults who live in highly populated cities get to learn from the monuments, but children and adults who live outside the popular cities don’t. They have the right to learn from all the monuments in the cities, which is why our class tried to figure out ways to allow children in poverty to get an equal education.     

George Perez ‘20

My favorite PBL was based on each person’s personality. This was our English PBL, [where] we chose a special moment in our lives we wanted to write about. This was my favorite because, as I said before, it was based on everyone’s personality, and you learned more about new people and old students.

For me, creating something that had to do with me was very motivating. The person I know best is myself. For all of my PBL projects, I always had a different thing to peruse about myself. One example is Spanish. My project, along with group efforts, represented an aspect of each person in the group.

The one PBL that changed my view on myself was the English PBL. During this PBL, I realized that each person is very different from the next person. During this PBL, I learned something super important. It is that no one person is exactly like me. I learned that I am my own person. I’m different, but there is no such thing as different in a bad way. The English PBL clearly demonstrated that. This is because we were given the task of choosing a moment in our lives to write about, and my moment was like no other moment in the grade.

Mena Tausner ‘20

My favorite PBL was focused on putting together a project that made people aware of the issue of wage inequality towards women in the United States.

I think that because I was making a project about something that really interested me, I was able to dive deeper into it and immerse myself more so than with an average assignment. I never found myself being bored or having nothing to do, for I was always trying to push harder and improve my work.

The Making a Difference History PBL changed my view on the world because it opened my eyes to the many inequalities that our society faces. Until this project, I never fully came to understand that even the roots of our lives, such as compensation, are riddled with unfair treatment. Our country has worked for a long time to treat everybody equally, but I found out that there are still many changes that need to come.

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