What Is Project Based Learning?
by Drew Perkins, Director of ThoughtStretchers Education
In the spectrum of pedagogical approaches from the most traditional to the most progressive, PBL is a tool for teaching and learning that combines the best of research and evidence-based practice to help deliver surface, deep, and transfer learning. In simple terms, PBL is students learning through the process of creating a product, sometimes referred to as a project.
Defining Project Based Learning:
At its core, project based learning is an instructional approach that revolves around the creation of a product, using inquiry to identify what students need to know and learn in order to do so successfully. Sometimes PBL is misunderstood as departing from traditional education approaches reliant on direct or explicit instruction.
While there are practitioners and professional development providers who make this mistake, robust and high-quality PBL includes those approaches, along with inquiry and collaborative exercises and activities as scaffolds for student learning. Project based learning can also include other positive outcomes such as connections with a real-world audience, building collaboration and communication skills, and increasing student engagement.
Here at ThoughtStretchers Education, our project-based learning model encompasses the following key components:
- Rich Inquiry: The project provides multiple opportunities & need for high-level questioning by students & teacher.
- Authenticity: The project challenges students to create products for real-world purposes & audiences.
- Autonomy: The project provides opportunities for student voice & choice in the process & product.
- Meaningful Assessment: The project guides teaching & learning using purposeful formative and summative assessments.
- Craftsmanship: The project provides opportunities & reason for students to create craftsman-like products.
Benefits of Project-Based Learning:
Project based learning offers numerous advantages for students and educators. Some of these benefits include:
Meaningful Learning: PBL can help establish a connection between learning and real-life, authentic contexts, rendering education more relevant and meaningful. With proper scaffolding, students can gain a deeper understanding of concepts and develop skills that extend beyond the confines of the classroom.
Increased Engagement: PBL can ignite curiosity, promote active participation, and enhance student engagement. Students can more easily become more cognitively and behaviorally engaged and motivated to explore, inquire, and learn by working on projects aligned with their interests.
Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills: Through PBL, students cultivate essential skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving through inquiry. By grappling with complexity in projects, they can learn to analyze information, think creatively, and devise innovative solutions.
Collaboration and Communication: PBL provides a framework for teachers to nurture effective collaboration and communication skills as students work in teams, exchange ideas, and present their findings. These skills prove vital for success in the modern workforce.
Long-Term Knowledge Retention: Project based learning, when scaffolded effectively, fosters deep learning and long-term knowledge retention. When students apply their knowledge in real-world contexts, they are more likely to remember and understand the concepts.
Examples of Project Based Learning:
PBL can vary in complexity, sophistication, and length and is an approach that works well with all grade levels and subject areas with appropriate design modifications. Some examples include:
- PBL Spotlight: Pakistan Kindergarteners Tackle Food Waste
- Spotlight: Student Work In Project Based Learning
- Spotlight: Elementary Students (i)Hop Into Project-Based Learning
- A Planning Guide For Project Based Learning In The Elementary Classroom
- PBL Exemplar – The Straw Project
To help ensure students are getting the most out of project based learning we encourage engaging with research-informed practices to help design and teach through PBL with intent. While there can be many benefits to PBL, it can also be done poorly leaving students without significant learning, even if they seemed to enjoy the experience.
The promise of robust PBL is that it can be a wonderful tool to teach for surface, deep, and transfer learning while engaging students in more relevant and meaningful learning experiences that leave them better prepared for the modern world.