Innovations in Project-Based Instruction
by Kate York
When faced with the choice to “go big, or go home” in facilitating Project-Based Instruction (PBI) at UTeach Dallas, Master Teachers Kate York and Katie Donaldson have definitely chosen the former. Pre-service teachers enrolled in this course over the past five semesters have broadened their PBI skill set by engaging in global and informal science collaboration projects. Not only has this allowed students to delve more deeply into their content acquisition and add to their instructional pedagogy toolbox, it has also strengthened their 21st century skills.
Combining the elements and tenets of PBI with global collaboration, pre-service teachers have been able to work on projects with K–12 students, pre-service teachers, and in-service teachers all over the world using numerous collaboration technology platforms such as iEARN (www.iearn.org), wiki discussion boards, Google apps, and Skype. The have collaborated with pre-service teachers in Belarus and South Korea to compare their educational journeys and with secondary students in Brazil who were interested in becoming teachers themselves. Additionally, they collaborated with a team of other pre-service teachers, graduate students, and professors at the University of the Bahamas, Texas Tech University, and National Taiwan Normal University to develop and create a balloon car out of common materials available to each group. The PBL students went on to design a standards-based, global collaboration lesson around this project that could be used in their future classrooms. One of their more ambitious global collaboration projects involved working with an orphanage school in Zambia to develop lessons based on the Zambian science and math standards for use by the teachers in that school with their students.
Pre-service teachers have also partnered with informal science education organizations. In the spring 2017 semester, pre-service teachers designed PBI lessons for the Toyota ShareLunker program in collaboration with the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC) of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). Presented as a curriculum development contest to the pre-service teachers and launched with an actual field trip and training at the TFFC, these integrated science and math lessons targeted 7–9th grade science and math state standards, utilizing the science and math behind the Toyota ShareLunker Program.
Lesson designs were formally presented to both TFFC and TPWD staff and area in-service classroom teachers during an event held in April at UT Dallas and responses were incredibly positive. One of the evaluating classroom teachers said of the UTeach Dallas PBI pre-service teachers: “I was in awe and truly inspired by the creative work your students put together! What a phenomenal job these future teachers did! I am encouraged for the future of the teaching profession when quality programs like this are supplying preservice teachers like these. We need what you are producing there...engaging, quality, energetic, informed, creative, teachers who have a grasp on teaching in nontraditional ways. I am honored to pilot many of these ideas next year….Thank you for letting me be a part of this.” These curriculum materials will be piloted in actual Texas K–12 classrooms this fall for potential future production and distribution by the TFFC.