How something is taught is as important as what is taught.
Humans are created as whole people. People learn linguistically, logically, aesthetically, spatially, socially, intrapersonally, interpersonally, and kinesthetically. Kinesthetic or physical movement is important since humans are corporeal. Teaching-learning is concerned with every aspect of the human person including physical engagement. Project-based learning is an essential component to any Christian’s education.
Biblical Theology of Project-Based Learning
God created a physical world (Gen. 1) including physical humans (Gen. 2:5-7). God uses His creation to physically proclaim His own message (Pss. 19, 148). God actively participates in fulfilling the needs of His creation (Pss. 102, 147). In fact, God declares that the physical world is His (Lev. 25:23; 1 Chr. 29:11; Ps. 50:9-12; 89:11).
God tells His prophets to communicate in unique ways: parading naked while preaching (Isa. 20), wearing an oxen’s yoke (Jer. 28), or marrying prostitutes (Hosea). God’s revelation took the form of physical writing (Ex 20; Jer. 36; Dan. 5), employed the speech of animals (Num. 22) and the physical presence of His Son (John 1:14-18). Jesus’ miracles were physical, impacting creation (Lu. 8) as well as healing humans (Lu. 5-7). The teaching of Jesus’ incarnation—literally “in-fleshness”—is dependent upon real, physical, historical space-time events: birth, life, death, resurrection, ascension, and consummation.
Repetition and memory was fostered through activity. The Sabbath was a “sign” (Eze. 20:12, 20) practiced through community celebration of Jesus’ resurrection (1 Cor. 15:54-16:2). Feasts (Est. 9:27-28), stones (Josh. 4:7), tassels (Num. 15:39-40), table tops (Num.16:36-40), and repositories for Scripture (Deut. 11:18) were the premise for active reminders through monuments, holidays, and medallions.
Israel built and maintained a physical place of worship (Ex. 35-40) focusing attention on the physical aspects of worship. God’s people were to actively participate in sacrifices (Lev. 1-7) as well as annual festivals (Lev. 23-25). Worship is focused on participatory performance (1 Chr. 15-16). Communion, baptism, foot washing, and love feasts are used as participatory acts of worship by believers (Mat. 28:29; Jn. 13; 1 Cor. 11). Paul made it clear that the Christian use of the body was a physical act of worship (Rom. 6:13; 12:1).
Biblical teaching is concerned with a change in physical behavior (Eph. 4; Col. 3). God is concerned about the body’s sinful misuse (1 Cor. 5, 6), including verbal attacks on others (Jas. 3:5-8). The physical needs of widows arise early in The Church’s history (Acts 6). Good works were to be the result of the Christian life (Gal. 6:9-10; Eph. 2:10; Ti. 3:1, 8, 14). The gospel is to be lived out in front of others (2 Co. 3:3; 1 The. 4:11-12; Ti. 2:1-10). Seeing needs of others without physically acting upon them called into question Christian transformation (Jas. 2:14-17; 1 Jn. 3:16-18).
Biblical Philosophy of Project-Based Learning
Creation, revelation, worship, and biblical teaching all teach that the physical component of life must not be ignored. Teaching curriculum is content-centered and teacher-directed yet also student-discovered. Transfer of ideas can be gained through an incarnational, active, practical process which engages the full person of the student, intellectually embodied. Students bear the load of learning, accountable before The Lordship of Jesus for their efforts. Instructors should be committed to both content and communication. How something is taught is as important as what is taught. Effective teaching necessarily includes active engagement with truth.
Christian Practice of Project-Based Learning
The human person is multi-faceted, yet whole; so Christian teaching will follow different tactics to engage students in the fullness of who they are. Jesus’ incarnation teaches that students should be met where they are, with the opportunity to conform to Heaven’s standard. Application of truth to life is no where better stated than in Micah 6:8 where humility, justice, and mercy are standards of conduct in community. In this way, learning could be “sweet” (Eze. 3:3; Ps. 119:103; Pro. 24:13-14).
A Christian lifeview can transform the mindsets of individuals and the public policies of institutions. An interdisciplinary framework will mesh belief with practice. Christian living can be demonstrated in practical ways. Teachers seeking to implement project-based learning should enact certain guidelines. First, foundational lessons should build up to the project, cementing the content needed to understand an assignment. Second, the students or groups should be chosen on the basis of their giftedness, the teacher aware of all student activity. Third, the project should be linked to specific activities: dressing like a character, character development, the setting of a play, singing, map creation, problem-solution, etc. Fourth, specific rubrics should be created to properly assess student learning. Students should have access to the rubrics from the beginning of the project so they know exactly how they will be assessed.
Students enjoy active learning because by it, they own their learning (Acts 17:11). Teacher preparation makes project-based learning possible. Creativity is an important component of teaching-learning for both teachers and students. Project-based learning allows teachers individual attention with students. In turn, active learning encourages differentiation in learning.
If the creation belongs to God, then all aspects of His world are potentially open for investigation. Each subject sphere should be investigated and established in the same general pattern: laying a biblical groundwork, creating a Christian philosophy statement, engaging cultural ideas, countering errant thinking, specifying relevant application to the Christian life, and suggesting methodological cues. Educational arenas may include but are not limited to, fine arts, business, cultural apologetics, athletics, government, math, science, history, psychology, technology, politics, journalism, health, economics, literature, and administration.
How one engages multiple disciplines are as varied as the number of disciplines themselves. Ideas for project-based learning could include: retreat for discussion; professional lectures, film reviews, reflective questionnaires, problem solving, interdisciplinarity, site visits (i.e., museums), expert interviews, story-telling, community events, and co-curricular activities.
This essay, along with 16 others, will be published in the new 3 volume Christian Education Encyclopedia with Roman & Littlefield (April, 2015). Dr. Eckel teaches through project-based learning with his students at Capital Seminary & Graduate School and his Gothic Horror Literature class with high school seniors at The Master’s Study.