There’s a reason why Aristotle’s quote (written all the way back in 350 B.C.E) still rings true: Learning by doing works. In my nearly two decades of teaching students everything from math to engineering and robotics, to storytelling and writing, I’ve focused on active, hands-on, “learn by doing and making” for two reasons: One, students are more engaged when they are valued as creators with ownership in the process. Engagement matters because if kids have buy-in to what they’re learning, they are likely to have better attendance, fewer disruptive or unfocused behaviors, and more tenacity. But, the second reason I focus on active, hands-on learning with students is because every single time I’ve seen a student invest in their own learning and go beyond the lesson, it was during teaching that supported them in constructing their own knowledge by doing, discovering, and making something. Students demonstrate this in different ways: making a cross-disciplinary connection, defining a new question that will take them beyond the task in front of them, or stepping up to act as a leader or mentor to other students. Simply put, as an educator, I have found that transformative, memorable learning comes from supporting students to take ownership over the learning process, to ask questions, and to DO by creating some kind of product that answers a question or solves a problem.
I’ve also spent the last two decades teaching teachers new methods, new tools, new ways of working with groups of students while still reaching each student in the group. Often, the educators I’m working with already know that their students are most engaged by doing, making, and seeking answers to questions they themselves helped define. This methodology goes by many names: active and experiential learning, constructionist or discovery-based education, challenge-based learning, maker-edu and more . . . I use the term “project-based learning” (PBL) to capture the idea that supporting guided student inquiries can manifest as a challenge, a call for tinkering and making, research, discovery, and then synthesis and application by producing something tangible and measurable. I’ve yet to meet a teacher who doesn’t already know that this kind of learning is stickier, and more transferable and relevant for students. But I also meet scores of teachers who admit that creating these experiences tends to be the exception in their classes and schools, not the rule.
It’s easy to see why there’s a disconnect between knowing what is great about PBL and creating a learning culture that employs it regularly - implementation of PBL is challenging! Teachers are busy helping students meet learning objectives, and resources to inspire and support PBL are scattered. Unsurprisingly, it can be challenging to synthesize the various resources needed to organize and track class and student data. I joined Workbench Education as an educator to create more ways to do less with top-down teaching and worksheets, while doing more with building foundational knowledge. My passion is showing that educators can first build foundational knowledge, then use it to drive questions, explorations, research, and hands-on PBL so that it’s not either or, and so that PBL can become a classroom culture rather than a special event. PBL can be intimidating to embrace and difficult to scale across a school or district without the right tools and adequate support. Moreover, teachers are often in the frustrating position of having to use their school’s tools while also seeking ways to pull together other resources to drive learning.
Workbench provides resources and support that teachers, schools, and school districts need to teach core concepts across all subjects using projects. I love helping teachers find a project that will help their class meet standards, liven up a topic that might otherwise feel daunting, and that helps their students apply and synthesize knowledge while making connections to other subjects and cross-disciplinary skills. Workbench goes beyond being a library of hands-on lesson plans - it’s that and a PBL platform supporting teachers to assign projects, track and assess student progress, and a tool where students build a digital portfolio memorializing all they have made and produced. With the Workbench Platform School District features, teachers who have great curricular ideas create, save, and share those project plans so other educators can easily access, personalize, and reproduce those lessons and activities. This creates a positive feedback loop where adventurous teachers can reproduce what works for their classes while sharing great ideas with teachers who may need some more mentoring or support to take the leap into PBL.
Workbench also knows that most schools are charged with creating more avenues to building 21st century skills, digital skills, and computer science education, so in addition to offering many projects that include coding and computational thinking, Workbench’s integrated block-based programming allows users to code and control multiple devices directly from the web-based Chrome browser, resulting in the heightened engagement gained from creating complex device reactions, as well as programming that’s accessible even to students and teachers who have no previous programming experience. By bringing together PBL, programming, and a platform to track and store it all for students, teachers, and schools, Workbench makes hands-on learning more efficient, easier to grow and scale, and forges a connection between PBL and all subjects.
To support teachers using PBL and the tools they’re already using, Workbench is also integrated with Google Classroom and Google single sign-on (SSO). Signing on with Google makes the process safe and easy for students and teachers by allowing them to use their Google accounts (usernames and passwords) to access Workbench.
Having Google SSO means students and teachers don’t have to worry about remembering multiple logins, and it means their credentials for Workbench are protected in all of the ways that Google-services helps users protect their logins and digital identities. Moreover, teachers logging in through Google don’t have to hassle with adding rosters manually; the Google integration lets them sync their students’ information, for a smooth and easy classroom management experience.
The Workbench Education and Google Classroom integration allows instructors to seamlessly move from Workbench projects to assign, assess, and review their students’ work simultaneously in Workbench and in their Google Classroom stream. In the Workbench, teachers can find a project to assign, personalize a project to add elements needed for their class goals, or create a new project. Assigning projects in Workbench syncs with Google Classroom,
allowing teachers to monitor student progress and projects in both locations. Teachers can easily log into their Google Classroom account and see projects alongside other assignments, with a link back to the Workbench project. Project progress and completion data synchronize between Workbench and Google Classroom allowing educators to use Workbench features and maintain an uncomplicated way to track class and student data on Google. Teachers can see who has (and who hasn’t) completed a project, then link back to the Workbench to see student work so that these sets of tools work together without demanding teacher effort.
Projects in Workbench make use of resources such as Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. Teachers can start from scratch or revise existing projects so that student completion of a step requires uploading a file from their Google Drive (e.g., collect data and put in a Google Sheet, write a paragraph about the findings in a Google Doc, create a Google Slide exemplifying the work), and teachers can add collaborative documents to assigned projects for more robust student engagement.
Workbench Education leads the way in providing a robust platform that functions as a hub for PBL. We delight in offering schools and teachers more ways to use projects to move the needle with students: more topics, more project choices, more features that make the experience convenient for in-class use, more integrations with tools, engaging ed-tech gear, and services that schools already trust and rely on. Next, we’ll be working to find more ways to help teachers and students tackle digital literacy and build 21st century skills with projects and ways for students to become innovators . . . stay tuned for our next release!
Our goal is to remove as many barriers as possible so that more teachers help their students do, create, apply, synthesize, tinker, fly drones, program, drive robots, and wire up creations on the road to meeting learning objectives. Workbench strives to offer educators a platform where students truly can learn by doing, where students can master complex subjects using interactive PBL content that teachers can create, share, and assign--all in a single location. Integrating with Google Classroom, along with the option of signing in with a Google account, is part of what makes Workbench a great choice for teachers who want to implement PBL in their classroom, but aren’t sure where to start. Workbench offers educators a way to start or deepen a PBL strategy, and the support, inspiring ideas, and engaging tools to make it happen.