How To Build Knowledge Through PBL

by Drew Perkins, Director of TeachThought PD

One of the consistent criticisms I hear of inquiry teaching and learning and project-based learning is that it is ineffective in helping students gain significant and important knowledge. While I think many of these criticisms create a false dichotomy between inquiry teaching and what is most commonly referred to as direct or explicit instruction, nonetheless it seems clear that there’s some validity to reckon with.

As I see it, that reckoning isn’t with the approach itself but more-so in the quality and effectiveness of implementation. Just like direct or explicit instruction can be done poorly, so can inquiry teaching and learning, and arguably the latter takes more skill as a facilitator.

I certainly understand the argument that inquiry teaching and learning and PBL when done poorly can yield poor, perhaps disastrous, results. Thus the importance of helping teachers grow this part of their craft in ways that are sustainable and impactful.

One might reasonably cite the complexity or difficulty of doing constructivist teaching and learning well as a reason to default to more traditional teaching methods. But it’s the opportunity cost of students making deeper connections and developing tacit, not just focal, knowledge and understanding that makes it worth the effort to continue to develop this approach in our schools.

I’ve talked about this on several occasions on the TeachThought Podcast, a few of them listed below, and written about The Importance Of Knowledge In Progressive Education as well.

Recently I was asked to share my thinking on this for a School of Tomorrow virtual conference session hosted by the international Beaconhouse School System, based in Pakistan, who we’ve worked with previously to help their teachers build PBL understanding. They were gracious enough to share the archived video of the roughly one hour session which you’ll find linked below.

In this video I talk through the ways in which we work in our Foundations of PBL workshops to build important knowledge and understanding through the process of PBL. I hope you find it helpful.

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