Encouraging Student Voice with Project Based Learning

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Student Voice is something many people talk about in education right now, but it can be hard to find out how to actually give students a voice in their education. It is something I used to struggle with as an educator. It bothered me that I couldn’t find a good way for student voice in the way I ran my class. It occurred to me that I might have to change the way my class ran if I wanted to make Student Voice a priority. Instead of trying to put a square peg in a round hole, I decided to remake the hole for the square peg. Project Based Learn (PBL) turned out to be the perfect size and shape for my students.

As teachers, one of the most important jobs is assessing our students’ understanding of the material covered in class. The traditional way had students fill in bubbles on a sheet that would be quickly graded and the student would be considered “assessed”. In reality, students were being assessed on how well they handle that type of assessment, along with the content on there. Instead of be giving students these types of assessments that are not fully measuring what a students knows, teachers should consider switching to Project Based Learning as way to give students a voice in how they learn and how they want to be assessed.

True project based learning provides students with a choice in the type of project they are going to demonstrate understanding of the topic. It is the choice, that gives the student a voice. Project based learning also gives students real ownership of their work because they are invested in the time and energy required to demonstrate their understanding. The know that their voice will be heard because they are working on a project that they have researched, created, and shared in a way that is meaningful to them. The more opportunities students are give to share their voice within a class, they will go stronger and more comfortable doing so. This is something we want from our students and letting them have a choice in their project allows them to exercise their voice and allow others to learn from them.

I had a student who would come to the Makerspace and check out the tools that were available to see if there was anything that stood out to him. He was drawn to littleBits because of the versatility of the parts to snap together and make whatever you want. Instead of just drawing pictures or making a digital presentation on how circuits can be open and closed, he used littleBits to build small devices and share those examples in class. He was able to demonstrate his understanding in a way that was fun and interesting to him. He was able to design, build, and share his understanding of circuits. By given this student a choice, he was able to share his voice and demonstrate the knowledge he gained in class.

One of the reasons Makerspaces have become popular in education is because it has been giving students and teachers access to tools that allow for greater complexity in projects, and therefore, more student voice. Students in a social studies class were given an opportunity to demonstrate understanding of something they covered in their Egypt unit. They could choose anything that was covered and they had to dive deeper and create an artifact to share to class. As 6th graders, you might expect to receive lots of poster boards, but not here. Students at University Liggett School utilized the Makerspace created some amazing projects. One student built his own replica of the Sphinx using Tinkercad, a 3D design software, and printed it out on the 3D printer. Another student built his own replica of the Great Pyramid with all of the chambers using Minecraft. These students, and their classmates, were able to create amazing projects to demonstrate their understanding because their teacher game them a voice through project based learning.

These are the types of examples seen throughout classes around the country that embrace project based learning as a way to engage students and give them a voice in their education. Over the years I have had student choose painting, movies, comic book creation, music writing, and even interpretive dance as a way to share their voice while demonstrating their understanding of various topics covered in class. These students created remarkable projects that were engaging for them, but most importantly, memorable. Giving students a voice in their learning is how teachers can engage students and truly let them take ownership of their learning in meaningful ways.


Nicholas Provenzano is a Technology Coordinator and Makerspace Director at University Liggett School in Michigan. He is also an author, speaker and consultant. He writes on his website, TheNerdyTeacher.com, Edutopia.org, as well as many other prominent educational websites. He has been featured on CNN.com, Education Week, The New York Times, and other media outlets. In 2013, he was awarded the Technology Teacher of the Year by MACUL and ISTE. Nicholas is a Google Certified Innovator, ASCD Emerging Leader, Raspberry Pi Certified Educator, and a TEDEd Innovative Educator. His best-selling book, Your Starter Guide to Makerspaces can be found on Amazon. Nicholas is sharing plenty of nerdy things on Twitter and Instagram at @TheNerdyTeacher.

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