Action plan promotes project-based learning

Yang Meiping
Shanghai Education Commission's three-year plan aims to cultivate students' abilities in solving real life problems in creative ways and to develop creative and critical thinking.
Yang Meiping

The Shanghai Education Commission has released a three-year action plan with around 100 primary and middle schools taking the lead in promoting project-based learning over the next three years.

The plan aims to cultivate students’ abilities in solving real life problems in creative ways. 

Schools will design real and challenging problems, with teachers guiding and instructing students to solve them in creative ways. In the process, students will develop their ability in creative and critical thinking, group communication and cooperation.

“Problem-based learning will be an important experiment in our education system,” said Jia Wei, deputy director of the commission. “Most of the challenges we face now are cross-disciplinary, so we have to keep our children curious to learn and creative in applying all their knowledge to solve problems.”

Jia stressed that the plan was not to add more courses, but to restructure teaching and learning models.

“There should be more complicated real-life questions to connect the learning content with children so as to arouse their curiosity and motivation for learning,” he said. 

Shanghai has a good foundation for carrying out the plan with 32 schools having piloted the new education model for the past five years and with principals and teachers developing a series of successful projects.

These included Shanghai Luwan Middle School in Huangpu District, which adopted an approach called “education without borders” to put the skills of all teaching disciplines on an equal footing and pool resources while teaching students to solve real life problems.

“One reason for us to launch the program was to adapt to the new high school entrance exam which requires students to develop an ability in cross-disciplinary and exploratory learning,” said Zhang Yi, the school’s principal.

“The other reason was that we were trying to find a new balance between basic education and the cultivation of students’ key abilities in facing up to future challenges.” 

Zhang said the school had developed projects based on real problems, the latest news, students’ interests and puzzles, as well as communities. It had developed about 40 cross-disciplinary projects.

For example, the school spent six weeks guiding students to design a mountain in a project involving geography and biology. Students needed to choose a site, design the mountain, and describe features of its plants and animals, as well as the whole ecology.

Action plan promotes project-based learning

Students at Hetian Road Primary School do an experiment related to water consumption. 

At Hetian Road Primary School, students read and compared water bills, experimented to learn the difference in water consumption between faucets triggered by inductive sensors and those by rotary switches. Eventually they submitted a proposal to the school to replace its switch-triggered faucets with inductive ones.

“In the process, students used their knowledge of math, science and writing,” said Zhang Junjin, the school principal. “The core of project-based learning is to teach students how to bring all the knowledge together to solve problems.”

Based on such trials, the city will deepen its exploration in promoting project-based learning and developing new teaching and learning models, according to the action plan.

Besides developing 100 pilot schools, the city also plans to cultivate 100 to 200 teachers who can lead research and implementation of project-based learning practices.

“We will train our teachers and also welcome contributions from other meme era of society, including experts and parents, to develop a professional team with both full-time and part-time instructors for project-based learning,” said Jia.

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