REFLECTIONS OF TWO COLLABORATING EDUCATORS TAKING A CONSTRUCTIVIST APPROACH TO PROJECT WORK IN AN ELEMENTARY CLASSROOM
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Project work has gained a prominent place in research for its significant educational potential (Blumenfeld et al., 1991; Fallik et al., 2008). Teachers, however, have not been providing project work with a prominent place in the elementary classroom (Blumenfeld et al., 1991; Fallik et al., 2008; Rogers et al., 2010; Tse, Lam, Lam, & Loh, 2005). To encourage and support teachers in practicing Project-Based Learning (PBL), we need to understand what motivates teachers to enact PBL, the challenges they face in doing so, and ways to support teachers in overcoming these challenges. To examine teachers’ lived experiences in enacting student-centered project work, the current study used the method of participatory action research (PAR). This method included the active participation of a teacher (Megan) and me (the principal researcher) in the design, enactment, and reflection upon a constructivist, whole-class project in an eastern Ontario Grade 5 classroom. The study was structured around two research questions: (1) what did we perceive as challenges and benefits of organizing and enacting a student-centered project, and (2) how did we perceive that our collaboration in organizing, enacting, and reflecting upon this project impacted our thinking and practices with regard to project work? Megan’s and my reflections were collected over the course of the project through two semi-structured interviews, diary writings, a pre-structured planning journal, and three semi-structured discussions. Megan and I perceived project work as beneficial to students’ engagement and learning. Enacting the project was challenging, as we lacked the management and organizational skills to enact project work efficiently, and we possessed a strong desire to control the direction of the project. Megan and I were further challenged by students’ lack of skills and comfort with the project’s demands and the lack of school support and time we needed for the project. Collaboratively experiencing and reflecting upon the project demonstrated how essential these challenges were in increasing Megan’s and my comfort, appreciation, understanding, and skills in enacting project work. Based on these findings, the study encourages teachers to collaboratively design, experience, and reflect upon project work in the context of their classrooms.