Project-Based Learning for the Virtual Classroom

Project-based learning (PBL) may not be the first thing that teachers consider when planning for remote or hybrid lessons. However, with a little creativity and an organized approach, project-based learning can engage students in a way that may be lacking during typical virtual instruction. So what is it, exactly? PBL, simply put, is an approach to learning through exploration of a real-world problem or question. Ideally, students choose to investigate a problem or challenge that means something to them – something that impacts their daily lives. Then, through research, collaboration, and exploration, students gain a deeper understanding of the issue or challenge and how they can contribute to a solution. Even more important is the fact that, through project-based learning, students gain a better understanding of who they are as learners and critical thinkers. With being said, let’s look at how instructors can utilize PBL in virtual settings.

How to Organize PBL for Remote Learning

“Embrace the chaos of now” by asking students to discuss what is currently troubling them. When students have a vested interest in their classwork, they will obviously be more inclined to engage in the work and follow through on the assignment. Ask about challenges or problems they’ve been having, such as:

  • What has been your biggest struggle with adapting to virtual/remote learning?
  • What needs are not being met in this “new normal?”
  • How has your daily routine changed since the start of the pandemic?
  • What is a problem that you see your peers, neighbors, teachers, community struggling with?

After students have identified an issue or challenge that they personally recognize in their day-to-day lives, ask them to do a little preliminary brainstorming about the problem using a standard KWL chart. The KWL chart is an old favorite in the classroom for any sort of introduction to a new topic, concept, or unit. For project-based learning, the KWL chart provides students with a visual starting point and a trajectory for where their research is headed. The graphic organizer, for those who have not used it before acts as a simple t-chart to organize what students already know (K) about the topic, what they want (W) to know about the topic, and what they learn (L) throughout their research process. This simple visual aid acts as the foundation for critical thinking by visually, yet simply, organizing a student’s thoughts.

Next, you can help students with backward design or backward mapping by outlining objectives first. Again, project-based learning is all about allowing students to explore a challenge and identify a resolution or fix for the problem. In order to adequately lay out the groundwork, students must have a clear and definitive end goal. Therefore, in planning for success, teachers need to help students employ backward mapping strategies by beginning with something like a S.M.A.R.T. (Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Timely.) goal—then working backward from there to achieve that goal.

Instructors can also utilize haptic engagement or hands–on learning by encouraging students to physically try out or experiment with their ideas. Teachers can model this experiential learning by choosing their own PBL to focus on while kids are working. Show students that, in order to truly solve a problem, people must occasionally get their hands dirty. It is also important for teachers to note that success stories are almost always trial and error—a sound solution will not come right away. By testing hypotheses and modifying approaches, students truly understand the value of hands–on, experiential learning. Not only are these demonstrations helpful for getting closer to a solution, but haptic engagement also teaches students about grit, perseverance, and strategies around error analysis.

Another great skill set that students may develop while participating in PBL classroom activities involves retrieval practice. Since students are focusing their work on one primary challenge, they are able to hone their focus and truly absorb new information as they learn. Teachers can help foster retrieval strategies with activities such as Cornell note-taking, peer teaching, and Socratic seminars, in which students take the lead in delivering information to one another.

Try some of these PBL strategies out in your next lesson, whether it be virtual or in-person, and see the results for yourself.

10 Skills Every Social Worker Needs

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With the continued growth of the social work field comes increased opportunities for social workers and human service professionals to improve the lives of challenged individuals. Before entering the field of social work, it is important to consider the core skills that are essential for successful career as a social worker.

1. Assessment Skills

According to the National Association of Social Workers, a significant number of social workers spend half of their time in case management. In order to be successful in case management, it is important to complete quality assessments. The assessment process reveals which clients need assistance obtaining resources, and it also allows a social worker to re-evaluate clients periodically in order to ascertain whether or not services remain effective and necessary.

2. Communication Skills

Communication in social work involves written and verbal correspondence with clients and other professionals. As an example, social workers considering grant writing careers must effectively communicate with elected officials to advocate for their causes and obtain necessary funding for programs. In any social work capacity, effectively communicating helps a professional advocate appropriately, remain clear and concise, appear professional and avoid or overcome crisis situations.

3. Advocacy and Leadership

Social workers frequently advocate for their clients. Well-developed advocacy skills allow social workers to properly represent their clients and obtain the services communities need. Excellent advocacy skills lead to positive change, and this helps clients to live empowered lives. These skills are used on the local, state and federal level to fight for existing programs, create new programs and remove or revise outdated policies.

4. Problem Solving Skills

One goal of social workers is to empower individuals. In order to empower someone, professionals must help that person work through challenges. Excellent problem solving skills are crucial in finding solutions for individuals and communities. In addition, social workers often work with limited resources and tight budgets. Problem solving skills are essential if one hopes to overcome budgetary obstacles and fiscal constraints.

5. Critical Thinking Skills

Applying social work theories and making informed decisions helps professionals to best serve client needs. In addition, professionals must act in an ethical and educated manner in order to best serve their organizations. This is where critical thinking comes in. Critical thinking involves searching for answers with an open mind and using information to best serve the present situation. When used correctly, these skills empower an individual during crisis situations and assist a social worker in best utilizing available resources.

6. Respect for Diversity

Social workers serve a diverse array of clients in many different sectors of society. Diversity offers many challenges, but it also offers strengths that can be utilized to overcome obstacles. A social worker who understands this can effectively serve clients, and this increases opportunities to improve communities.

7. Intervention Skills

Social workers regularly intervene in emergency situations to benefit the lives of their clients. Interventions are best offered in a way that empowers clients and draws on their available strengths. This allows clients to develop their own strengths and utilize them when future problems arise, so they can independently manage their lives.

8. Documentation Skills

All areas of social work require that professionals document findings about clients. As an example, many sources give a probation officer job description that includes the following: the ability to compile, analyze, evaluate and report to the court information obtained during an investigation. Without well-developed documentation skills, completing such tasks would be impossible. Social workers document assessment information, crisis interventions and any correspondence with their clients or other professionals. Documentation must be thorough, accurate and timely in order to benefit both the client and the organization offering services.

9. Organizational Skills

Social workers must keep resources organized, remain diligent in maintaining thorough and accurate records and utilize effective time management skills too. Excelling in organization requires learning how to simplify a work environment, prioritize tasks, use good decision making practices and keep a calendar of important events or projects.

10. Understanding of Human Relationships

Finally, social workers must understand that this field is about human relationships. Couples, families, friends and communities are all part of the support system an individual turns to in time of crises. If a social worker does not embrace relationship based practice, resources will be missed and problems often become impossible to resolve. Understanding this is key to becoming a competent social work professional.

Mastering important skills enhances a social worker’s abilities in this challenging field. Education, practice and personal discovery all assist an individual in excelling in these areas.

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