The Power of Project-Based Learning for Gifted and Talented Students
For the past two school years, International Virtual Learning Academy (IVLA) has offered a program for gifted and talented students called GATE (Gifted And Talented Education). In addition to an individualized accelerated learning plan, students in the GATE program participate in weekly classes. GATE class meets in a virtual classroom facilitated by IVLA’s GATE specialist.
In GATE class, students work through various activities to hone their higher-level thinking and creative problem-solving skills. A portion of the class each semester is devoted to project-based learning. As its name implies, project-based learning is a unit of learning students complete while working on a particular project. Examples include researching and “becoming” a historical person, science projects, and creating math mysteries, to name a few.
Project-based learning is ideal for GATE because it is interactive, builds higher-level thinking skills, hones communication, and applies learning to real-life.
Because IVLA is an online school, students spend the bulk of their time working one-on-one with their courseware. This is an excellent means of ensuring individualized learning. However, learning to interact and collaborate is important as well. In GATE class when students are working on a project, they share their findings, discuss next steps, and provide feedback to one another. The opportunity to understand how someone else is processing information is invaluable.
Higher-level thinking skills
Working through a project includes analyzing research, synthesizing ideas, correlating concepts, creating a way to present a conclusion, and communicating the results.
For example, in our “becoming” a historical person project, students had to delve deeper than just finding facts about a person; instead they had to evaluate events and factors in terms of influences on their subject’s life. There were discussions about how the student may have acted or what they may had thought faced with similar circumstances (metacognition). Then material had to be organized into a creative, engaging way to be presented from the subject’s point of view. Finally, delivering the presentation required a deep understanding of the content researched and the finer nuances of what makes a person who they are. Students critiqued one another’s presentation, sharpening their critical listening skills.
All these higher-order skills packed into one project gives GATE students a chance to stretch and grow.
Projects require a number of various forms of communication.
In our GATE science fair projects last spring, students began by discussing how the scientific method would be used to prove their hypothesis. They learned how to communicate by graphs and data. Their projects required visuals and verbal presentation.
A take-away from project-based learning is that communicating what you learned is paramount to the process.
Project-based learning is essentially applied learning. Students look for information because it is needed to solve a problem and not merely “for the test.” What is created in a project is to communicate an idea or a solution. The result is a sense of purpose and thus greater motivation among students. Projects give students practice at learning how to learn. These are crucial skills for life in general and higher learning in particular. While no work is cited here to prove it, the assumption is that students who engage in project-based learning are more likely to become life-long learners.
In conclusion, the strongest argument for utilizing project-based learning for our IVLA GATE program is that it is an excellent vehicle to challenge students and empower them to reach their greatest potential.