Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning models the real world, enables effective evaluation, and equates success with learning.

Models the Real World

Project-based learning (PBL) engages students in learning activities that are long-term, interdisciplinary, and integrated with real-world issues and practices. It is a shift from short, isolated lessons (40 minutes of math, 40 minutes of science, etc.). In PBL, students are using their skills and knowledge in a variety of subjects to solve problems and/or create products.

With PBL, learning is more authentic because students experience a "real" work environment in real-world situations. Even at a young age, children are able to practice and apply the skills of scholars, researchers, and other professionals. For example, a child may be asked to

  • develop a project plan,
  • create a draft for the plan,
  • generate feedback on her ideas,
  • conduct research in an area(s), and
  • finally prepare to share a product with an audience.

Students learn not only the skills associated with the subject areas but also social skills, life skills, self-management skills, and independence.

Enables Effective Evaluation

As a child engages in a project, the teacher or parent takes opportunities to discuss the student's ideas, provide feedback, encourage thought, and review the learning that is taking place. With PBL, students can demonstrate mastery while at the same time reinforcing their learning through real-world application.

Equates Success With Learning

But the benefits don't end there. When compared with the most popular form of evaluation — exams and grades — PBL is vastly superior in many ways. Studies have shown that when exams and grades are used to demonstrate mastery, children tend to

  • lose interest more rapidly,
  • avoid tasks that are challenging,
  • and be less likely to think critically.

In one study, students were given identical assignments. Some were told that they would be graded, and others were not. The children that were told they were being graded had less interest in the topic, were less likely to work on it on their own time, and tended to choose easier and more familiar topics.

With tests and exams, the message that students internalize is that success matters more than learning. With PBL, success is not finding a way to get a grade.

Success is learning.