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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Project-Based Learning: An Overview

Seymour Papert, a distinguished professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is among a growing group of scholars who support project-based learning. Read a short introductory article or watch a brief introductory video.
Transcript

Student: We would place the dome right here, for instance.

Narrator: These sophomore geometry students in Seattle, have a problem. And they're excited about solving it.

Eeva: The problem that they have to solve, is how do you design a state of the art high school in the year 2050, on a particular site. Students are in teams of three to four, and they're in a design competition for a contract to build it.

Student: Here's the fire eliminator. This is a vacuum, there's water inside it.

Narrator: In Lackawanna, Pennsylvania, these fifth graders are designing a tool to put out fires in space.

Student: If you turn it on high, it sucks up the fireballs.

Narrator: In Newport News, Virginia, these second graders are investigating cystic fibrosis.

Student: One of our students has CF, and we're trying to learn about CF, to see what it is, how it works.

Narrator: In Hawaii, high school students are building electric cars, and racing them. These students have something in common. They are energized, focused, and challenged, determined to do their best.

Student: Yeah, yeah, put something right there.

Narrator: They are collaborating in hands-on, real world projects, studying everything from robots to worms, learning lessons they'll never forget and having fun in the process.

Student: We did a experiment on dead worms. We smelled them, and they didn't smell good.

Narrator: Worms are just one of the subjects students explore in depth at Newsome Park, a K through five science magnet school in Newport News, Virginia, that has embraced the concept of project based learning.

Teacher: See the different type of fish down here?

Narrator: Each class picks a topic to study for the semester. They then plan a research phase which includes field trips to gather information.

Student: Transportation for Effects.

Narrator: At the conclusion of the project, they share their findings in oral presentations, digital slide shows and display boards which are viewed and critiqued by their parents and their peers.

Peter: Project based learning was really the delivery model that we felt would allow kids to learn, and really learn about what they want to learn about. I mean, so many years, we've been pumping kids full of stuff that we think is appropriate, and really, in many instances, maybe that was successful. But it's much more successful and exhilarating, when kids have the input that we allow them to have here at Newsome Park.

Student: How do you spell, Mineral?

Narrator: Putting students at the center of the learning process is the key to transforming the educational system, according to world renowned mathematician and educator, Seymour Papert.

Seymour: Well, first thing you have to do is give up the idea of curriculum. Curriculum meaning you have to learn this on a given day. Replace it by a system where you learn this where you need it. So that means, you've got to put kids in a position where they're going to use the knowledge that they're getting.

Student: Put numbers inside the tank, so it's one, two, three, four, five.

Narrator: At the West Hawaii Explorations Charter School, on the Kona Coast of Hawaii, students design their own research projects and pursue several of them over the course of the school year.

Student: Now let it sit here.

Narrator: They're involved with everything from engineering electric racing cars..

Student: It's like a greenhouse in here.

Narrator: To surveying coral reef ecosystems.

Erin: I've got about a 26.

Narrator: Erin Rietow has been studying the health of several brackish water ponds, and in the process, is learning much more than she did in a traditional classroom setting.

Erin: I love what I do, and it's really exciting, and it feels good, instead of-- compared to being where I was before, sitting in a classroom, four walls, lights, textbooks, desks. This is my classroom now. This is where I learn.

Bruce: Most students never find out what science is. They hate it because it's memorizing all this stuff. So project based learning gives everybody a chance to sort of mimic what scientists do, and that's exciting and it's fun, if it's done well.

Student: Going down, all right.

Student: Wow, that's a drop.

Narrator: New technology is the driving force behind the project based learning revolution. For Mott Hall, a science and technology magnet school in New York City's Harlem District, the paradigm shift began when each student received a laptop computer.

Mirian: And when we put the laptops and the technology directly into the hands of teachers and students, we started to move from a more traditional instructional model, to a project base and constructivist model, and we really embraced this as a school community, because we feel that, what is important for our students, is for them to be directors and managers of their own learning.

Teacher: What kind of poem would you make out of that one?

Student: A silly one.

Mirian: We really wanted to have children collaborate with each other, have children engage in multidisciplinary types of projects that were longer, that were more complex.

Student: Using the graph paper on the computer, I've created a scale for my kite.

Mirian: We feel this is more authentic, we feel this is more challenging work for our students, and we have seen that it has yielded very positive results.

Seymour: They idea of learning experientially and through projects, it's been around forever. I mean, the 19th-- John Dewey was saying that, Piaget, anyone you can-- you name it. Why did they not have more powerful influence? Because of the limitations of the knowledge technology that we had in the past. But now with the computer, somebody who's interest is in graphic arts, can use mathematics as an instrument to produce shapes and forms and motions on computer screens.

Student: I'm going to go online, because I'm researching my topic, which is, how to say, Kite, in different languages.

Seymour: We have infinitely greater ways of connecting the particular interests that an individual human being might have, with the powerful ideas. And so they really can learn knowledge by using it.

Teacher: These are Angel Fish.

Narrator: Schools all over the country have found creative ways to use community resources and have formed partnerships with local institutions to create exciting projects.

Announcer: The drivers are psyched, the cars are ready, so let's take a look at the field.

Narrator: In Hawaii, the Island's power company sponsors the Electron Marathon Car Race. Every year, students from the Islands design and build electric cars, and race them in an energy efficiency competition.

Student: Do you think it's time that we transfer them again?

Student: Transfer them.

Student: Definitely?

Narrator: And in Manhattan, a partnership between Mott Hall and the City College of New York, allowed these eighth graders to work on their class science project, while advancing vital research on single celled organisms.

Susan: They'll talk to you about these species of microorganisms, just as if they were the scientists in the labs, and that's exactly what we want, for them to feel, not necessarily they're going to become scientists, but if that's what they want to do, they can do it.

Student: I think it's a privilege to be here, and I found it to be really fun, and it expanded my horizons like, now I can see that I have more choices for a job.

Student: Okay, so now count them.

Narrator: Some critics of project based learning voice concerns about the challenge of assessment and the maintenance of academic standards, but proponents like Seymour Papert insist that project based learning is the surest path to knowledge in the 21st Century.

Seymour: Standardization is a guarantee of no standards, because the standard I would like to see is thinking differently, is the individual having the right to pursue individual interest, and this is where you'll get deep and wonderful growth of individuals.

Erin: If you want to excel, and you want to push yourself, there isn't any class in a public school that could give you what you can give yourself, and that's what the greatest thing is, is because it's all you. I'm so blessed to have been able to go this school. It's great.

Student: What's the temperature of the water?

Seymour: Imagine if kids from the beginning could be learning through developing their interests, through things that they're in love with, that they cared about. You know, just imagine, yeah.

Narrator: For more information on, What Works in Public Education, go to edutopia.org.

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Credits

Video Credits

Produced, Written, and Directed by

  • Ken Ellis

Associate Producers:

  • Leigh Iacobucci
  • Diane Curtis
  • Roberta Furger
  • Sara Armstrong

Editor:

  • Karen Sutherland

Camera Crew:

  • Alfred Shapiro
  • William Turnley
  • John Dobovan
  • Jeff McGall
  • Gabriel Miller
  • Lou Trusty

Narrator:

  • Susan Blake

Intern:

  • Morgan Ho

Comments (64)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Hilary's picture

I like the idea of PBL because it seems that the students are very engaged and motivated to learn. I also like that the students take ownership for the learning, and I think it's especially motivating when the students have the freedom of choosing their own topics or problems to solve. At the same time, I agree with what others have said relating to direct instruction of the basics. I think PBL could certainly have a place in daily study, but I don't feel it can replace teaching the core curriculum. I loved some of the examples of different science projects that were given, and I would love to try teaching science with more of a PBL approach. As a 4th grade teacher, I also think my students would need a lot of guidance and support to be successful using the PBL approach, but I'd love to try it.

Jeff Bridges's picture

I still don't see any empirical research demonstrating PBL is more effective at any type of learning. I have seen articles that demonstrated that direct instruction is most effective both in retention and in transference.

Donna D. Daria's picture
Donna D. Daria
Subsutitue teacher,Graduate Student on line.

This is the first time I have visited this site! I wish I had know aabout this along time ago. This is good to use for younger children learning about anything from a -z.
I will implament alot of the things I invisioned by looking on your site in the literacty Summer School Program.
Good luck!

Nancy Noyes's picture

Of course this is AWESOME!!! This is what we do in Career & Tech every day--and have done for years! I am SO glad academic teachers are getting on board too! I do think there is value in some traditional ways of teaching, and these should not just be totally discarded. But recognizing how we ALL learn is so incredibly important, and to retain the enthusiasm for lifelong learning is critical!

Jennifer Thomas Kelly's picture
Jennifer Thomas Kelly
Middle School teacher: 8th grade social studies; 7th grade English from IN

[quote]I am happy to share some of my PBL's with you. My class has become student driven rather than teacher driven thanks to strategies like PBL, and my students love them.[/quote]

I'm brand new to Edutopia and would LOVE to hear more about the PBL's you've used in your classes.

Jane's picture

Wow... it is just about time! Classrooms beyond walls :). Now , we can say school is fun!

Dara Nurmi's picture

The 'general pool of knowledge' you mention can be learned by incorporating it into PBL through mini-lessons that tie into the project. This is just one way of introducing and/or teaching the 'general pool of knowledge'.

JB's picture

If you are using the human condition as a spring board, you should check out this Blog site - autonomyandlife.com - excellent perspective from a great thinker!

Shaina Malachowski's picture

This demonstrates that you can take anything and turn it into a learning experience and yet still cover the material needed. I really enjoyed how they took one of their studenst who had cystic fibrosis and turned it into an educational oppurutnity to teach the students about it. They had to students look it up and do an assignment on it rather than just telling them what it is.
Also the electric racing cars and science experiments were very inspiring. This project based learning seem to give the children a meaning and understanding for learning. I wish this could happen every where and all the time. Very inspiring!

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