Project Based Learning


I. What is Project Based Learning?

–> Here’s a great intro video to start us off (4 minutes):

–> In this video (16 minutes), High Tech High CEO Larry Rosenstock describes a vision for education that embraces learning that flows from personal interests, passion for discovery, and a celebration of art, technology, and craftsmanship.

In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. While allowing for some degree of student “voice and choice,” rigorous projects are carefully planned, managed, and assessed to help students learn key academic content, practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking), and create high-quality, authentic products & presentations.

Rigorous, meaningful and effective Project Based Learning:

  • is intended to teach significant content. Goals for student learning are explicitly derived from content standards and key concepts at the heart of academic disciplines.
  • requires critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication. To answer a Driving Question and create high-quality work, students need to do much more than remember information. They need to use higher-order thinking skills and learn to work as a team. They must listen to others and make their own ideas clear when speaking, be able to read a variety of material, write or otherwise express themselves in various modes, and make effective presentations. These skills, competencies and habits of mind are often known as “21st century skills,” because they are prerequisite for success in the 21st century workplace.
  • requires inquiry as part of the process of learning and creating something new. Students ask questions, search for answers, and arrive at conclusions, leading them to construct something new: an idea, an interpretation, or a product.
  • is organized around an open-ended Driving Question. This focuses students’ work and deepens their learning by framing important issues, debates, challenges or problems.
  • creates a need to know essential content and skills.Project Based Learning reverses the order in which information and concepts are traditionally presented. A typical unit with a “project” add-on begins by presenting students with knowledge and concepts and then, once gained, giving students the opportunity to apply them. Project Based Learning begins with the vision of an end product or presentation. This creates a context and reason to learn and understand the information and concepts.
  • allows some degree of student voice and choice. Students learn to work independently and take responsibility when they are asked to make choices. The opportunity to make choices, and to express their learning in their own voice, also helps to increase students’ educational engagement.
  • includes processes for revision and reflection. Students learn to give and receive feedback in order to improve the quality of the products they create, and are asked to think about what and how they are learning.
  • involves a public audience. Students present their work to other people, beyond their classmates and teacher – in person or online. This “ups the stakes,” increasing students’motivation to do high-quality work, and adds to the authenticity of the project.

“If we are serious about reaching 21st Century educational goals, PBL must be at the center of 21st Century instruction. The project contains and frames the curriculum, which differs from the short project or activity added onto traditional instruction. PBL is, The Main Course, not Dessert.” – The Buck Institute

–>In this video (4 minutes), high school students reflect on their experience of project based learning and describe how they not only learned a great deal of content, but also practiced the 21st century skills needed for personal and workplace success.

Why use PBL?

Students gain a deeper understanding of the concepts and standards at the heart of a project. Projects also build vital workplace skills and lifelong habits of learning. Projects can allow students to address community issues, explore careers, interact with adult mentors, use technology, and present their work to audiences beyond the classroom. PBL can motivate students who might otherwise find school boring or meaningless.

How is PBL used?

Some teachers use PBL extensively as their primary curriculum organizer and instructional method. Others use PBL occasionally during a school year. Projects vary in length, from several days to several weeks or even a semester. PBL can be effective at all grade levels and subjects, and in career/technical education, afterschool and alternative programs.

–> Here’s a video of an example project from Edutopia (7 minutes) including art, history, engineering, language arts, and technology, both old and new, come together for eighth grade students in this rich project learning expedition at King Middle School in Portland, Maine.

–> In this video, (5 minutes) a team of eighth-grade teachers compare notes on the trials and rewards of working together on project-based “expeditionary” learning.

Optional Download –> PBL Teachers Tool Kit

II. The “Challenge-Based” Learning Model

Challenge Based Learning is an engaging multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that encourages students to leverage the technology they use in their daily lives to solve real-world problems through efforts in their homes, schools and communities.

–> This is an overview video of CBL (4 minutes):

Traditional teaching and learning models are becoming increasingly ineffective with a generation of students who have instant access to vast amounts of information, embrace the roles of content producer and publisher and have access to extensive online social networks.

Today, students are often faced with assignments and assessments that lack a real-world context. Many of these students either learn to do just enough to get by or they lose interest altogether and drop out. In this interconnected world, with ubiquitous access to powerful technologies, new models of teaching and learning are possible, and engagement is paramount to meeting the needs of more students.

–> Here’s an example of CBL in action (3 Minutes):

Outside of school, students encounter very different models of teaching and learning. Online learning communities revolving around the passions and skills of the participants appear, evolve and expand as needed without the constraints of time or physical location. Students embrace media where participants are presented with a challenge requiring them to draw on prior learning, acquire new knowledge, and tap their creativity to develop and implement solutions. Cable and network television have capitalized on this formula with shows focused on topics ranging from cooking, to designing clothes, to participants working to solve real-world business challenges. To address the need to create new ways of engaging students to achieve, Apple worked with educators across the country to develop the concept of Challenge Based Learning.

Challenge Based Learning is collaborative and hands-on, asking students to work with other students, their teachers, and experts in their communities and around the world to develop deeper knowledge of the subjects students are studying, accept and solve challenges, take action, share their experience, and enter into a global discussion about important issues.

Optional Download –> CBL Teachers Tool Kit

III. The Student in Project-Based Instruction

Students can be responsible for the creation of both the question and the activities, as well as the nature of the artifacts. Additionally, teachers or curriculum developers can create questions and activities.

Regardless of who generates it, the question cannot be so constrained that outcomes are predetermined, leaving students with little opportunity to develop their own approaches to investigating and answering the initial question.

Students’ freedom to generate artifacts is critical, because it is through this process of generation that students construct their own knowledge. Because artifacts are concrete and explicit (e.g., a model, report, consequential task, videotape, or film) they can be shared and critiqued. This allows others to provide feedback, makes the activity authentic, and permits learners to reflect on and extend their knowledge and revise their artifacts.

Projects are decidedly different from conventional activities that are designed to help students learn information in the absence of a driving question. Such conventional activities might relate to each other and help students learn curricular content, but without the presence of a driving question, they do not hold the same promise that learning will occur as do activities orchestrated in the service of an important intellectual purpose (Sizer, 1984). Supporters of project-based learning claim that as students investigate and seek resolutions to problems, they acquire an understanding of key principles and concepts (Blumenfeld et al.,1991). Project-based learning also places students in realistic, contextualized problem-solving environments (CTGV, 1992).

Projects can thus serve as bridges between phenomena in the classroom and real-life experiences. Questions and answers that arise in daily enterprise are given value and are proven open to systematic inquiry.

  • Project-based education requires active engagement of students’ effort over an extended period of time.
  • Project-based learning also promotes links among subject matter disciplines and presents an expanded, rather than narrow, view of subject matter.
  • Projects are adaptable to different types of learners and learning situations (Blumenfeld et al., 1991).

Reading Assignment (QQC 1):

Download QQC Reading Assignment 1 Here

Download PBL Planning Roadmap Here

Supplemental Reading Resources:

Download Here


Related Links:

*List 1: Project Examples & Curriculum Ideas

Epals Global Community Project Examples

Project Based Learning with Nasa

Global School Net PBL Database

Mathalicious – Real World Math

Edutopia Project Example Links

Envision School: Project Based Model Examples

Searchable Database on K-12 Curriculum and Project Ideas

Project Examples from Exemplary

Virtual School Project Models

PBL, Tech & Inquiry-Based Instructional Units – Ohio Pathways

High Tech High Projects & Educator Resources

*List 2: Alternate Overviews of Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning: A Primer

A Review of Research on Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning Research

Expert interviews on Project Based Learning

Novel Approach

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