by Randall Hatfield, staff writer

NOVEMBER 2022 — Project-based learning has been an aspect of Bio-Med Science Academy’s mission since the school’s founding. It is one of the principles that sets the school’s curriculum apart from traditional K-12 education and is thought to improve student growth and absorption of school content. Though research has been performed on PBL efficacy in schools, less is known about the transition from PBL to the college system and the effects it may have on student learning there.

“Project-based learning is a way to get students to learn through a process of creating a project, or if it is more problem based, through the process of solving a problem,” stated Laura Sass, Bio-Med’s STEM Quality and Curriculum Coordinator.

Senior David Knarr prepares to test his group’s device for a physics class egg-drop project. The project tasks students with applying principles of physics to their device, in order to ensure that it protects an egg from a 5-meter fall. Photo by Randall Hatfield, staff writer.

The problems being addressed are meant to be complex and encourage students to learn their content in-depth and engage collaboratively with one another.

“It’s more about application of what’s being learned,” Sass explained. “Learning the content of the class, but also everything else that comes with a project — the group work, the communication, [and] conflict resolution. You’re delving into it, you’re researching it, you’re applying it, [and] you’re making your own meaning of what you’re learning.”

Sass also explained the appeal of adopting PBL over traditional learning styles.

“It’s about making the learning deeper…. Instead of being very surface level, [PBL is] narrowed in. It’s focused, but it’s deeper, and so it allows that learning to be deeper [and] students to work together in ways that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise,” she said.

A U.S. Department of Education literature review on PBL-focused research noted several improvements in the performance of students that use PBL as opposed to traditional learning, but it also noted that the effectiveness could vary based on the class. Some classes, like math, were more difficult to integrate projects into than classes like history or English.  

While PBL may have benefits in a more standardized environment, like the K-12 school system, the multidisciplinary environment that college offers could make the transition between them different for each area of study.

“It was definitely different transitioning from the really open and collaborative project-based learning to [working] a little bit on your own,” stated Nadim Awad, who graduated from Bio-Med in 2020.

Awad currently attends Kent State University and is majoring in Psychology.

“With psych, it’s kind of just learning one-on-one,” he explained. “I would say there are some times I have had to work in a group with a few other students in my class to assess a certain clinical trial or diagnose a certain client.”

Despite the shift in class styles, Awad noted that the interpersonal communication aspect of PBL had carried over into his area of study and assisted him greatly there.

“How to communicate with others is such an important part of psychology, especially if you are a little more — I wouldn’t say introverted — but a lot more ‘to yourself,’” he stated. “In psych, you really do have to know your client. You really have to be able to communicate with your client, [and you] have to really be able to help them out in any way shape or form.”

Eleanor Huntley, a 2019 graduate, stated that the PBL system had assisted with numerous aspects of her college education, especially due to her major in Architecture.

“I think it helped. It really really really helped, but something to note is I went from a project-based learning school to a project-based learning major, and not all students at Bio-Med do that,” she explained. “In architecture, every semester I have a project-based class, and then I present at several times during the semester, so the skills I learned in Bio-Med directly went into that.”

Huntley’s Architecture major teaches her the principles of designing buildings and public spaces. Shown here is one of her design projects from 2021, a cultural and recreational center imagined to reside in Tremont, Ohio. Photo provided by Huntley.

She stated, however, that the project-based aspect of her major had come in around halfway through her studies, before which she was assigned more traditional lecture classes.

“Your first and second years [of college] will be a lot more general no matter what your major is, really,” Huntley said. “Then [the] third and fourth years, you’re pretty much really integrated into your major and what that will be into your career.”

Sass explained her perspective on the qualities needed for an effective transition to college.

“I think it’s a balance,” she stated. “I think if you’re going into college, you do need those skills of traditional note taking, being able to sit and listen to a lecture, and the things that come along with a more traditional college education.

I think those skills of being able to talk to a professor, being able to think critically and creatively… will absolutely transfer over and be helpful,” she added.

Awad concluded with his advice for alleviating the transition between high school and college. .

“I would probably say my advice to juniors [and] seniors getting ready for college [learning] is to take it easy,” he said, “I know that sounds kind of odd because college is so important to most — if not everybody— but sometimes you just have to relax a little bit and not overwork yourself. It’s okay to take breaks and have a little bit of fun. It’s all about finding that balance!”

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