Using Project-Based Learning and Technology to Promote Collaboration and Problem- Solving in Elementary-Aged Students: A Case Study of an After-School Program



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Background: Children are exposed to technology well before they enter a school setting and despite knowing how to use technology, when they start elementary school they tend to superficially engage with devices and programs. Educators are faced with the challenges of moving beyond merely integrating technology in the classroom. They are tasked with building twenty-first century skills through engaging learning environments, yet few programs exist that offer elementary-aged students opportunities to engage with technology in ways that promote crucial skills. Limited research exists on how students in elementary school benefit from project-based technology lessons that challenge them to collaborate and problem-solve through rigorous performance-based tasks. Purpose: The purpose of this qualitative case study is to understand the experiences of elementary students who engage with project-based learning with technology and how it fosters twenty-first century skills, specifically, collaboration, and problem-solving. Students participated in an after-school program called Just Add Beats (JAB), a creative audio production and entrepreneurship that uses a project-based learning curriculum focused on beat making, podcasting, and sound design with technology. The three research questions that guided this study were: 1. How does Just Add Beats, a technology-infused PBL program, impact elementary students’ interactions with each other to collaborate and problem-solve? 2. What was the teacher’s role in facilitating PBL learning that uses technology? 3. What successes and/or challenges did the students encounter throughout the program? Methods: Several sources of date were collected, including field notes, audio recordings of the students’ work during the JAB sessions, interviews with both the instructor of the program and the campus principal, and curriculum documents and lesson plans from JAB. All the data were transcribed and inputted to NVivo. The constant comparison method of coding was used, starting with open coding. Major themes discussed were collaboration, problem-solving, acquisition of technological skills and classroom management. Peer debriefing was used to support the trustworthiness of the findings. Results: The program’s constructivist approach provided meaningful opportunities for the students to successfully collaborate to complete complex technology-based tasks. They demonstrated a range of problem-solving from troubleshooting basic technological issues to discovering creative ways to apply new knowledge to create original work. The role the instructor played was that of a guide who modeled basic skills while allowing students to explore and experiment. Overall, students demonstrated innovative and creative ways to apply newly acquired technological skills, they successfully worked together to complete each performance task, and they demonstrated confidence and engagement. Some of the challenges were related to classroom management and loss of class time due to occasional off-task behavior. Conclusion: Elementary students can successfully use technology in meaningful ways that promote critical skills. Educators need not wait until students reach a middle or high school level to work with complex software. The findings from this study will help to further inform districts about the benefits of programs that use project-based learning with technology to foster twenty-first century skills at the elementary level.



project-based learning, educational technology, elementary