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Project-based Learning at Home: Making Homework Profitable

posted Jun 3, 2013, 9:13 AM by Christine Gordon

Project-based learning is a powerful tool that promotes student engagement in both academic and social-emotional learning, but is typically reserved for classrooms and after-school programs. Recently I had a bit of an “aha!” moment and adapted the core principles to use at home with my sister (pictured here with me!) to help improve her writing skills (and yes, we have even made $16 from our project to-date!)

The background: Michelle, my little sister, is 12 years younger than me and about to finish the 9th grade. This year in school she had to write quite a few essays and was really struggling with them. One of her biggest challenges was keeping her essay on topic so as soon as she got an essay assignment we'd focus together on crafting an outline, making sure that she really understood the process and could eventually do it on her own. But this meant that later when it came to writing the actual essay itself, things became very rushed and stressful. I know many parents and tutors can relate to me when I talk about the challenge of finding time to both help a child develop skills and to just get tonight's homework done!

The problem: I needed to find a way for my sister to improve her writing skills in a way that was meaningful and enjoyable to her so that she would be willing to invest the additional time beyond her already heavy homework load. She was already willing to work with me to improve her writing, the key was to make it more enjoyable and meaningful for both of us. I also saw value in giving her the opportunity to find her own style of writing outside of academia and to practice writing for an actual audience, not just the theoretical one in the writing assignments she was getting from school.

The solution: I distilled the core principles of project-based learning down to a few essential characteristics and approached Michelle with my idea to think of a project that would be relevant to her and giver her a real-world reason to practice the art of writing for it's own sake. You, too, can use these characteristics to help frame a project with your own child(ren) and just in time for summer, too! (As always, for more resources, check out the collection of parenting resources I've curated and you can filter and sort them by type, tag, etc.)

Essential Characteristics of Project-based Learning

  • Relevant to the student and personally meaningful
  • Addresses a real need/problem with an unknown solution
  • Opportunity for open-ended investigation and exploration
  • Student-directed with opportunities for reflection
  • Adult-facilitated

The project: We decided together that we would create a blog to help teens and their families find shared interests and things to enjoy together. We've called it "Big And Little Picks" - I'm the "big" and she's the "little!" and while it's still in the early stages, it has already got a life of its own! 

The best part is that like all great project-based learning she is learning far more than just the intended academic skills; in my sister's case this means developing skills in web development, blogging, marketing and accounting to name a few. And of course there's the added benefit of the extra opportunity it has given us to connect, share and create together as sisters. (Although I think Michelle is more excited about the $16 we've earned so far!)

I can't say at this time where this latest venture will take us, but I can say that our tutoring time has become a lot more enjoyable for both of us!