Project-based learning in the biology classroom

In their guide to project-based learning, the Edutopia website argues that project-based learning allows students to combine fundamental skills such as reading, writing, and math with 21st century skills such as teamwork, problem solving, time management, information synthesis, and utilizing technology. As a result, the site argues, “students become directors and managers of their learning process, guided and mentored by a skilled teacher.”

Project-based learning is an important part of the KCD curriculum. Throughout the rest of this year, we will post a series of articles highlighting best practices in project-based learning at KCD.

Diane McCallum’s biology class includes several projects that integrate core subject matter with skills crossing a variety of disciplines. In the pamphlet project, for example, students research a genetic disease, then turn that research into a pamphlet intended for distribution in a doctor’s office. The project requires students to explain complex concepts in layman’s terms, and to complete the project successfully, students need to draw on diverse sets of skills such as composition, design, and facility with software.

In addition to requiring students to integrate different sets of skills, Ms. McCallum’s newspaper project also requires students to work collaboratively. For this project, students work in groups of three to create a newspaper or magazine containing 5–6 articles focusing on the application of biotechnology in areas such as forensics, agriculture, medicine, and cloning. In addition to research-based reporting, students must also include persuasive pieces arguing the pros and cons of each biotech application. Other requirements include designing the piece and selecting appropriate artwork. Click below to browse and example for this year’s class.

According to Ms. McCallum, the synthesis of different sets of skills is an important part of these projects. “Different parts of the project draw on different strengths,” she explained. “It allows the students to learn from each other as they work together.”