Project Based Learning–Including Making in the Curricula

One key pillar of the CCC Maker Project is how to incorporate making into the curricula of different disciplines.  It has also been one aspect that is particularly challenging, especially among disciplines that follow a traditional lecture modality.  What is a faculty lead to do?  At an Open Educational Resources conference I recently attended, one of the speakers discussed their success in maintaining student engagement, even through traditional difficult modules in their course.  What follows is my understanding of Mr. Allen Fortune’s presentation on Project Based Learning.

Allen Fortune, a psychology professor from West Hills Community College, presented on the concept of Project Based Learning (see for more info).  He noticed that his introductory psychology sections did pretty well overall, but always scored low on his cumulative final in one particular area: sections of the brain.  This unit was always very dense; students could look forward to copious lecture notes to review, difficult terminology to memorize, and detailed diagrams to label.  Something needed to change, so Allen decided that he would make his student’s build a brain instead.

The instructions were simple: build a brain out of whatever you wanted to, but it had to be somewhat accurate, and you needed to justify your choices in a paper that accompanied the assignment.  After one semester, student retention skyrocketed–Allen saw a jump in the high score for his cumulative final go from an 83%, to a 95%.  The act of creating a model brain had helped ingrain the concepts and terminology deeper into the students than his previous pedagogical approach. It also provides a fantastic anecdote to relate to instructors who might feel that there is no room for making in their curriculum.


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