Project learning can inspire the best of high-performance teamwork, or it can be devolve into unfocused chaos. How can we support each other to keep our eye on the prize? Share your project ideas, questions, and implementation experiences.

What's Wrong with Project Learning?

Carl Bidleman Edutopia TV News Syndicator

I'm not a teacher but, as a teaching/learning method, PBL seems like a no-brainer to me. Since it's not universally accepted and deployed, what are the downsides that I'm missing?

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Elementary Computer Lab Teacher

Why not PBL?

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Why, oh why does PBL fail, when so many studies tell us it's a good idea, and it more closely reflects how work is done among grownups in our jobs?

Early discouragement: Many teachers will try this, but give up shortly after starting. The class may get out of control, or kids may slack off, or something just "bad" happens. The best way to fight this?
- Teach kids explicitly the rules and expectations in their groups
- Spend time observing in the early stages, but don't settle all conflicts, instead direct student in how to resolve it themselves.
- Speak to others doing PBL at your site and/or online
- Reflect on what's going on, think about how to improve it
- Do not let one bad day or some bad days at the start get in the way

Teachers feel like more learning sticks if it is presented to students explicitly by someone who knows what they are talking about, ignoring that even though your delivery maybe "clear", what students hear may not be.

I think this post about independent work time, which has similar management issues to running a PBL classroom, illustrates how and why some teachers will avoid doing this.

Former senior editor at Edutopia.

What studies?

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Hi Alice,

I'm really interested in reading the studies that back up PBL. Please let me know if you have any suggestions.

I agree that PBL just seems too hard for some teachers at first glance. They have to give up some control over the classroom, and it's hard to do something unconventional when tests are looming.

It's great to get practical tips like the type you've provided.

Thanks,

Malaika

Elementary Computer Lab Teacher

Can you give me until the

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Can you give me until the weekend? We had a some in a recent grant application.

Former senior editor at Edutopia.

No problem! I'm looking

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No problem! I'm looking forward to your response.

Alice's Citation Secretary

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Hi Malaika, I've worked with Alice a bit here and there, and just completed an Ed Tech M.A. I can tell you there is good academic reference for PBL, but that most of it, just like inquiry learning, centers around science curriculum. A good problem, like a good teacher, is sometimes hard to quantify, because it's context specific. But here are a few references for you:

Goodnough, Karen (2006)Enhancing Pedagogical Content Knowledge through Self-Study: An Exploration of Problem-Based Learning. 11,3. Teaching in Higher Education.

Karen has data, but talks about how her teaching/classroom was transformed through the new paradigm.

Here is a more data based result for you. Strict study, direct results in student capacity observed:

Araz, G. and S. Sungur (2007). "The interplay between cognitive and motivational variables in a problem-based learning environment." Learning and Individual Differences 17(4): 291-297.

Samsonov, P., S. Pedersen, et al. (2006). "Using Problem-Based Learning Software with At-Risk Students: A Case Study." Computers in the Schools 23: 111.

This study is interesting because it deals with the special issues of at risk students, which qualify the use of PBL. The author makes suggestions on how to use PBL with at risk students.

The conclusion ends: "At-risk students may need greater guidance and support than not at-risk students to develop the skills necessary for effective collaboration within student-centered learning environments. Such support would require confronting the barriers to effective collaboration, such as those evidenced in this study, including the tendency by high achievers to avoid collaboration and the awkward interactions wherein students feel that collaboration amounts to being “taught” by their classmates. Open discussions of the issues involved in collaboration, modeling of effective tactics in a variety of situations, and reflection on effective collaborative experiences may help students acquire the values and skills necessary to support and be supported by their peers in student-centered learning environments."
(Samsanov, Pederson, et al., 2006)

Interestingly, in the "scientific" endeavor of PBL, with at risk students, anyway, it is the success of the human elements that determine successful outcome. "So say we all?"

Project Learning Consultant for PBL Associates

Thank you for your research suggestions.

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Thank you for your research suggestions.

I will read them and see if I can add any additional items to complement your articles.

Tristan

Former senior editor at Edutopia.

Wow! This group is great.

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Wow! This group is great. Thanks so much for the suggestions. I'm also looking forward to Tristan's thoughts. I'll check back in soon. We are planning a package on project learning for 2010, so this is all helpful background.

A side note: do people call it project learning at all, or is it still referred to in the field as PBL?

Thanks so much!

Malaika

Elementary Computer Lab Teacher

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Thank you Paul. You can see what an asset he is when you're writing a grant.

Charter school humanities teacher for non-traditional middle grade learners

Culture change

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Thanks for the great resources, Paul!

I'm in the midst of transitioning from a more compartmentalized class structure into a PBL one, and I constantly have to remind myself that any culture change takes time. Early discouragement -in general - is such an obstacle to innovation and change in education. It takes a lot of patience and forgiveness, especially of one's self as the planner of instruction, to get to the transformative results that PBL gives students - authentic, personally meaningful work created collaboratively inside school.

At-Risk

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I like that the study Paul cites was with at-risk students. Most people I know think of project learning as something that would be best with students in an AP class because it seems like it is more independent learning. Although I am not using PL right now I want to and I want see more classes in our school use it, too. To me it can become a way to individualize a program for students. I could be wrong on that???

I am a Special Education teacher at the HS level and to me PL would provide more opportunities for students to learn transition skills such as self-advocacy. I love the whole idea, too, because it is more likely to help students make learning a life long value. Are these some results people actually doing it see in the classroom?

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