A powerful way to foster citizenship is to use Project-Based Learning. PBL requires students to investigate authentic challenges and problems and then take action and communicate ideas. These are all powerful skills of effect citizens. Many projects involve service-learning or can even target specific social studies standards connected to civics education. Projects also requires students to critically thinking throughout the project, and evaluate sources as they do research. PBL is the right tool to create effective citizens as an integrated part of the curriculum and not “another thing.”
PBL and the Social Studies C3 Standards
Many schools are adopting the new C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards. The C3 Framework includes into 4 dimensions that include “Developing Questions and Planning Inquires,” “Disciplinary Tool and Concepts” that include content such as Civics and History, “Evaluating Sources and Using Evidence,” and finally “Communicating Conclusions and Taking Informed Action. The overall framework is articulated as an inquiry arc “of interlocking and mutually reinforcing elements that speak to the intersection of ideas and learners.” Student engage in the inquiry process through developing questions and planning inquiries, learn disciplinary content and skills and use evidence and sources to communicate and take informed action. The overall inquiry arc serves as a vehicle to create effective citizens that not only have disciplinary civics knowledge, but also have source evaluation skills. Students in the C3 must also act as citizens as they take action and communicate ideas. PBL can complement this framework, by adding other effective pedagogical components to support learning. PBL can mirror the embedded inquiry in the C3 standards.
Even if you do no teach Social Studies or have adopted the C3 Framework, you can still create projects that can build citizenship. Design a project that connects to a local or national issue where students might investigate or communicate their ideas. If appropriate, students might advocate for an action or issue. Have students create products that go directly to an audience that might make an impact. Students could write a governmental official or share presentations with parents and the community. As many projects require students to research or investigate information sources, teachers can intentionally target critical thinking skills around evaluating sources in their project. Also, teachers can scaffold questioning and inquiry skills in any project to prepare students to citizens that are skilled inquirers.
One of the pitfalls of thinking about creating citizens is that it is something in the future; something simply to work towards. Yes, we are creating citizens for the future. Students will graduate and become more active in adult-world as a citizen of the world. However, our students can be citizens now. Effect citizens question reality, think critically, advocate, make change, and communicate effectively. Our students can do that now; they don’t have to wait to be a citizen. When we use projects as a delivery tool for curriculum, content and skills, we create a context to learn and take action. We can use PBL foster citizens in the making and to make our students citizens now!