Promoting Summer Growth Through Project Based Learning

When summer vacation hits and students leave their classrooms behind, too often they leave learning behind as well. The result is a “summer slide” that leaves students playing catch-up when they return to school in the fall.

So the problem is, how can we as tutors, educators, and parents help prevent this “summer slide”? One thing is for sure, if we are to compete with summer camps, vacations, and fun in the sun, it’s going to take more than worksheets and library books!

Students need authentic learning experiences that tap into their interests and create a felt need to learn. By trading stale curriculum for a more engaging approach, tutors can help put the brakes on the summer slide and turn the summer into an opportunity for enrichment.

The Power of Project Based Learning

The Project Based Learning (PBL) concept is all about giving students authentic issues to engage with that don’t necessarily lead to traditional right or wrong outcomes. Students grapple with a real-world problem and work to pursue the knowledge needed to create their own practical solution. They are assessed on their efforts and the skills they used in pursuit of an end result.

When implemented well, PBL is a great way to combine academic skills spanning multiple disciplines in a way that is comparable to how students will be expected to apply knowledge in their lives. These types of projects include things like data analysis, reading, and writing (skills that are particularly vulnerable to the “summer slide”), and do so in organic ways that mimic how they are used in the real world.

Ultimately, PBL puts students in a position to steer their own learning experiences and build the skills along the way to help create their own outcomes. It can be empowering and engaging in ways that online courseware and paperwork simply cannot replicate.

Making Summer PBL Work

Tutors and parents can craft PBL experiences that span a few days, weeks, or even an entire summer. This makes PBL a great fit for summer schedules crowded with other commitments. Learners can engage with their projects at their own pace when there is time available to do so.

Portions (or all) of tutoring sessions can be spent as check-ins to evaluate student progress and facilitate steps for moving forward. Of course, this only works if the student has the willingness to engage with the task!

Making PBL Relevant

In trying to craft a Project Based Learning experience, one of the most important considerations is relevance. For a PBL initiative to be most effective, students need to be seeking knowledge out of a felt need to do so. This won’t happen if the student and project are not in alignment…especially during summer vacation!

Making an effective PBL experience starts by getting to know a student’s interests and passions so that you can tap into them. Some examples include:

  • If you have a student who loves video games, challenge the student to learn a coding language and produce their own working video game.
  • For sports fans, create a project where students have to analyze statistics to create a super team that can fit within a league’s salary cap.
  • For nature-lovers, create a project where students analyze their local environment and create a travel video for a relevant biome.
  • If you’re stuck, the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) has an archive filled with PBL examples to help get your creative juices flowing!

Making PBL collaborative

Project Based Learning is, by its very nature, a collaborative process. While students drive the learning experience, educators are there to facilitate and help give students support in overcoming obstacles.

When designing a PBL, you can add authenticity to the experience by adding more opportunities for collaboration. While oftentimes this is easier to accomplish in a traditional classroom setting, tutors and parents can still find effective ways to make a summer PBL collaborative:

  • Reach out to experts in a relevant field to see if they would be willing to share insights with a student via email or video chat (…with proper supervision, of course).
  • Work with local tutors and/or other students to tackle larger projects.
  • Put a team together to compete in an innovation challenge.
  • Create opportunities for older students to serve as mentors for younger ones.

Expanding PBL into a team-based endeavor can help expand the scope of what can be accomplished. At the same time, it adds valuable teamwork and accountability elements into the process.

Regardless of a student’s age or grade level, taking two months off from learning is bound to leave a mark. By finding ways to draw students in with authentic, interest-based PBL experiences, tutors and parents can make learning not only continue, but thrive throughout the summer months!

What are some of your favorite examples of authentic summer learning? What PBL strategies have worked for you and your students? Share your experiences with our readers in the comments below and on social media!


About Sheldon S

Sheldon Soper is a ten year veteran of the teaching profession and currently serves as a junior high school teacher in southern New Jersey. His primary focus is building reading, writing, and research skills in his students. He holds two degrees from Rutgers University: a B.A. in History as well as a M.Ed. in Elementary Education. He holds teaching certifications in English Language Arts, Social Studies, and Elementary Education. Sheldon has also worked as a tutor for grades ranging from second through high school in a wide variety of subjects including reading, writing, calculus, chemistry, algebra, and test prep. In addition to his teaching career, Sheldon is also a content writer for a variety of education, technology, and parenting websites.

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