An Introduction to Project-Based Learning


Project-based learning (PBL) allows students to examine real-life problems that are of interest to them individually. Consistent with constructivist values, this mode of learning is less teacher and more student-directed. Students may formulate questions that they are interested in answering about topics of their individual interest, or the project may be more teacher initiated. The instructor helps students to formulate worthy questions but acts more as a resource than a director. PBL is interdisciplinary, incorporating skills and providing lessons in a variety of disciplines. It also promotes communication and collaborative work; proponents of PBL believe that its collaborative nature better prepares students for the workplace. They also believe that PBL leads to a greater, deeper understanding of concepts and retention of material.

PBL prepares students to be life-long learners in that a purpose and/or problem is examined, researched, analyzed, and solved. These sorts of goal setting, problem-solving, and higher level thinking skills are useful for life-long application. Communication and collaboration, other important life skills, are also utilized as students work in groups and interact with other people such as experts while participating in PBL. An important part of PBL is computer and technology literacy. Students learn to use the tools and technology available to them in the most productive ways. They learn to seek, investigate, evaluate, and use resources to fulfill specific purposes and to sort through and analyze the plethora of materials to find the most meaningful, accurate, and relevant. Students learn to evaluate the credibility of experts. PBL can also promote appropriate digital citizenship as students are exposed to online sources of varying quality, they glean the importance of good digital citizenship. By publishing their works online, they participate in the digital world as citizens. Using PBL provides students with the opportunity to learn and utilize these important and necessary life skills.

The Buck Institute for Education provides this graphic to explain PBL:

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Project-Based Learning: An Overviewspacerwiki280.gif

Although research shows that project-based learning is popular among students, it is not without its challenges. Flexible class periods and more collaboration between instructors of different disciplines are important for project-based learning, and sometimes these pose problems. Some students struggle with self-directed tasks for a variety of reasons from lack of time management and motivation to adjustment from teacher-directed to student-centered activities. By being cognizant of the possible pitfalls, teachers can develop check points and methods to regularly monitor student progress and manage any problems that arise. By utilizing the web, educators can find a multitude of tools, information, tools, and examples of project-based learning. Schools have existed for some time that specialize in PBL such as the New Technology High School, International Polytechnic High School and High Tech High. In fact, New Technology High School has used PBL since 1996. Buck Institute for Education provides an online project planning sheetand a starter kit for PBL units. Another site provides templates for check lists for evaluation of projects; many sites provide rubrics or rubric templates as well. The Global SchoolNet Foundation is an organization that promotes collaborative PBL and connects students from all over the world; the site hosts and links to many ongoing student projects. ThinkQuestprovides a free platform for teachers and students to create learning projects. Project-based learning can now easily be utilized to bring excitement to students and learning.

New Technology High School on KRON 4 New Transformed by Technology: High Tech High Overview

Challenges Adopting Project Based Learning

When moving from a traditional classroom to one that uses project based learning, teachers and students can experience difficulties and frustrations. Students may be reluctant to work in groups and teachers may question whether students understand the process or the course content. In a Nov 26, 2010 Edutopia article "Project-Based Learning: A Case for Not Giving Up", Suzie Boss talks about some teachers difficulties and how to not give up. In one example she talks about a teacher who tried project based learning but the students were complaining and not working together, so she decide to go back to the books and quizzes. It wasn't long before the students asked to give PBL another chance. The students questioned what they were learning by following the books and quizzes except how to follow orders and cram for tests. The next time the teacher focused on building teamwork and time management skills and she used formative assessments to check students progress. For more tips, see Boss's article here.


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A Computer-Mediated Support System for Project-Based Learning James Laffey, Thomas Tupper, Dale Musser,,John Wedmon

Next up, see Differentiated Instruction