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Character Education Through PBL

by Tim Gripka, American School of Asunción

In the internet age teachers’ roles and responsibilities are dramatically changing. Our job is no longer to impart information, but to facilitate opportunities for students to gain wisdom and interpersonal skills. For me, Project Based Learning is a conduit which provides opportunities for students to demonstrate not only what they have learned about specific content, but more importantly, what they are learning about themselves and others. Character development is occurring throughout our lives every minute of every day and cannot be paused or postponed. This learning, many agree, is of the highest relevance for students no matter what the future holds.

We often attempt to teach character traits through direct instruction or have implemented programs in our schools that are intended to establish how character impacts life and its relevance for our students. We expect that students learn from our experiences and adopt our learning as their own. These approaches are well intended and at times effective, but whether or not we want to admit it, explicitly teaching these character lessons is not nearly as affective as constructing opportunities for students to independently acquire these essential life lessons. Regardless of our classroom practices, these lessons are occurring and they are highly relevant.

It is my belief that the pedagogy of Project Based Learning can provide such learning opportunities throughout our schools and classrooms if thoughtfully implemented.


Sharing student produced learning tools about bullying and the rock cycle.

One of the many examples of how I have pursued this type of learning can be seen in a project I designed for my sixth grade Physical Science class. While studying the rock cycle, which is not always a hot topic, I engaged the kids with a specifically designed project. My students had been struggling with responsibility, like many sixth graders, and I wanted them to experience what it feels like to be responsible for teaching a younger student something you believe in. We teamed with the kindergarten classes and each student was asked to design a learning tool to teach a particular student about the rock-cycle, however I added a twist.


Demonstrating how fossils are formed in rocks.

The teaching tool had to include a character lesson as well. Students were given the opportunity to produce whatever they felt would do the trick, but they had to choose a character theme that could be associated with the rock cycle and work it into their learning tool. This added the objective of students learning more than just the rock cycle. Peer-pressure, diversity, labeling, and decision making, were only a few of the character themes that my sixth graders were able to identify and connect to this seemingly bland content. They produced a variety of products, including books, videos, games, and models. It was amazing to see how they took such a seemingly impersonal content matter and made it their own. They connected with the content on a personal level making meaning out of what was previously seen as minutia.


6th graders and k5 students experimenting with displacement and volume.

As the culminating event, we hosted the kindergarten students and their families, shared our teaching tools and then led the students and families through a series of science activities. It was an amazing success. Some parents of sixth graders were moved to tears as they witnessed their son or daughter taking an active role in mentoring a younger student, all the while learning the finer points of physical science. Will the students remember the phases of the rock cycle? Will they even remember my class? I’m not sure, but I am sure they will get more from this experience than an A on their report card.


Reading a student made picture book about peer pressure and the rock cycle.


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