Infusing Project Based Learning into the Gifted Classroom

This is an article I wrote for the OAGC Review. It was published in the Spring 2013 edition 

Being a Gifted Intervention Specialist for the past 8 years in an urban school district, I have found that my students are looking for real life experiences that can be translated into experiences outside of the classroom. I feel that our students need to be taught the skills to handle experiences outside of the classroom. I believe that we as GIS, need to focus on four overarching skills (you may tweak them based on your students), and technology skills. These skills will help students to be successful in a Project Based Learning classroom.

Before we can begin to discuss how to infuse Project Based Learning into the classroom, we first need to discuss what it is. According to  Project Based Learning (PBL) is “a dynamic approach to teaching in which students explore real world problems and challenges. With this type of active and engaged learning,  students are inspired to obtain a deeper knowledge of subjects they’re studying.” Every teacher should want this from their students.There is a difference from doing projects and PBL. The major difference is that when you do PBL you are teaching through a project, not so much teaching to do a project. You are developing skills while working in PBL.

Why would PBL be good for Gifted Education? There are several reasons. One such reason is the obvious, it is engaging and goes in depth. The addition of the complexity it adds to the depth of study is one of my favorite aspects of PBL. For example, if your student’s project requires them to do research you may have to teach them how to collect data, organize data, and how to use that data in a way that makes sense.

PBL also adds choices for students. Students can take a variety of ways to answer the overall driving question of the unit.

Another reason PBL is important to Gifted Education is the fact it makes the student accountable for their learning and teaches them organization. I feel these go together, because keeping a journal, portfolio, or using a plain old manilla folder to hold all of your work is important. It saves time and keeps students from re-doing unnecessary work.

Finally, PBL incorporates real world skills into the classroom. By doing some of the same type of collaboration, study, and testing that professionals do in their field in the classroom makes PBL come to life for students.

On the other side of that engaging and in depth learning comes the need to know and use technology. In our day and age we are surrounded by technology that keeps improving every day. So we need to not only teach our students how to use technology we need to teach them how to use them in the context of learning. I feel there are four major skills that we need to impart in our gifted children. They are organization skills, collaboration skills, interpersonal skills, and divergent and convergent thinking skills. We know many of the characteristics of gifted children. One of them is the fact that so many are unorganized. Many find it mundane, and not needed. But in the real world, organization skills can help you get a job done faster and more efficient.  Teachers along with myself, need to show students the importance of good record keeping, labeling data, and organizing all of this into a portfolio of some sort so they can get to what they need at any time.

Collaboration skills and interpersonal skills are connected. Gifted students need to know how to collaborate in a group. They need to know they don’t have all of the good ideas, but by listening to the ideas of others, and collaborating with each other they can all come up with several good ideas. Those interpersonal skills are so important. Gifted students have to know when they can take control of a collaboration session, and when not to. We need to show them not to sit back and listen too much and not contribute to a session, because they don’t like the trajectory of the conversation. They need to know that everyone may have an idea, some just need more revision than others. As a side note, if they fail, the group as a whole fails. Many gifted students fall apart when they fail. They take that failure as they did something wrong. Sometimes by going back to a point and seeing where the failure stemmed from and being able to fix it can be a success. They need to be shown that.

Finally, divergent and convergent thinking skills are important for the fact that many gifted students can do these well by themselves, but demonstrating that for a group or in a group can be a bit difficult. Which is why all the other skills mentioned above, I believe, are so important. To me they build on each other. Divergent thinking is defined as “out-of-the-box thinking; thinking that moves away in diverging directions so as to involve a variety of aspects and which sometimes lead to novel ideas and solutions; associated with creativity” according to Wordnet. Also, convergent thinking is defined as “thinking that brings together information focussed on solving a problem; especially solving problems that have a single correct solution.” Both of these have to be used to solve problems in the real world. So we need to show our students how to use these skills effectively.  By being able to use these skills gifted students can investigate a topic in depth.

Continuing on the technology side of things. Teachers need to give our students skills they need to be successful in today’s society and in tomorrow’s world. One of those skills needed in a PBL classroom is research skills. We all use Google, but do your students do it effectively? Teach your students how to use the advanced search option. This will help to keep down the unusable websites.

Another aspect of technology that students need to master is using the cloud. Cloud services like Dropbox or Google Drive are great examples.  These services are free and they are easy to use.

Students should be taught how to collaborate using wikis, Google Docs, Twitter,  Facebook,  Skype,  or Google Hangouts.  All of these allow for interaction between students in and outside of the classroom.  Gifted students need to know that learning isn’t confined to a classroom. It can be anywhere.

Finally, we need to teach our gifted students to communicate.  In our society,  communication is important. In a PBL classroom students use real audiences. They should be encouraged to blog, create YouTube videos, or podcasts using Voicethread or Soundcloud.  Interaction with a real audience is important.  It gives real feedback. That’s where real learning is experienced.

In conclusion,  if we are expecting our gifted students to lead and succeed in the 21st century then we need to give them real life, engaging and diverse experiences along with the skills needed. There needs to be some choice in their learning. Gifted students need to be given the opportunity to see there is more than one solution, and more than one way to get an answer for a project. That’s the gift of Project Based Learning.





Project Based Learning for Gifted Students: A Handbook for the 21st century classroom by Todd Stanley


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