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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Why Teach with Project-Based Learning?: Providing Students With a Well-Rounded Classroom Experience

Project-based learning helps students apply what they learn to real-life experiences and provides an all-around enriching education.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team
VIDEO: Project-Based Learning: An Overview

Project learning, also known as project-based learning, is a dynamic approach to teaching in which students explore real-world problems and challenges, simultaneously developing cross-curriculum skills while working in small collaborative groups.

Because project-based learning is filled with active and engaged learning, it inspires students to obtain a deeper knowledge of the subjects they're studying. Research also indicates that students are more likely to retain the knowledge gained through this approach far more readily than through traditional textbook-centered learning. In addition, students develop confidence and self-direction as they move through both team-based and independent work.

In the process of completing their projects, students also hone their organizational and research skills, develop better communication with their peers and adults, and often work within their community while seeing the positive effect of their work.

Because students are evaluated on the basis of their projects, rather than on the comparatively narrow rubrics defined by exams, essays, and written reports, assessment of project-based work is often more meaningful to them. They quickly see how academic work can connect to real-life issues -- and may even be inspired to pursue a career or engage in activism that relates to the project they developed.

Students also thrive on the greater flexibility of project learning. In addition to participating in traditional assessment, they might be evaluated on presentations to a community audience they have assiduously prepared for, informative tours of a local historical site based on their recently acquired expertise, or screening of a scripted film they have painstakingly produced.

Project learning is also an effective way to integrate technology into the curriculum. A typical project can easily accommodate computers and the Internet, as well as interactive whiteboards, global-positioning-system (GPS) devices, digital still cameras, video cameras, and associated editing equipment.

Adopting a project-learning approach in your classroom or school can invigorate your learning environment, energizing the curriculum with a real-world relevance and sparking students' desire to explore, investigate, and understand their world. Return to our Project Learning page to learn more.

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Songmy Martin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I must say that for me project learning is a revolution in teaching because the student knows exactly where he is going to and why he is there. He is more independent. He deals with real life situations and can freely voice his opinion. He also interacts with his peers outside the limits of his classroom to see what they think about a given situation. His teacher stops to be his only model. The student here has a broader view on a problem or an issue. The student has more freedom to express his views and opinions. The focus shifts from the teacher to be put on the learner.

G.teacher's picture

I work at a project-based learning school where every student has a laptop. A few learn this way, but the majority play around on their computers until they have to turn something in. Classroom management is a nightmare! Let's see, would a teenager rather game, skype, text, etc. or work on a project. Teachers end up having to police the room so that their students stay on task. Also, the final projects are usually fluff and they cannot tell you what they learned in the end.

[quote]I read this article and wanted to puke. This article contradicts everything what teachers are trying to do.First, projects do not allow students explore real world problems. What it does is that it narrows their exploration only to one specific issue whereas all the worlds problems should be explored.Secondly, working in small groups there will always be at least one person who is not going to participate with the other members. For "team building" there is something called athletics and clubs.Third, the individual who took the time to write this article needs to go back to the university. Any individual who teaches their students to "retain knowledge" should be out of the profession. There is something called "Blooms Taxonomy" that most teachers use.Lastly, I am unable to recall if the SAT has "group projects" on it. I know when I took the GRE exam I did not see anything on there about project learning.In conclusion I would like to end with a couple of questions. For those of who took the GRE how did you prepare for the test? by doing projects? Or, was it by reading and writing? Did you have anybody help take the GRE? For those of you with your MA. Did you formulate thesis, reasearched your thesis, and defended your thesis? Did you do it by yourself, or were part of a small group?[/quote]

Pash Kitty's picture

So, I think that for your second graders this might work but i know for me as a junior in high school, this will not work. I find it much easier to learn by simply reading the text books and having the teacher give us a couple examples of the subject/ matierial that we just went over. My english teacher is now trying to impliment "PBL" and I am now more confused than ever on how or what I am supposed to do with the information she is giving us. We have just read "The Crucible" and she wants us to make a "kiwibox" profile based on the charachter she has assigned us, and I have NO idea how to do this. She is a "loop teacher" and I have had her since my freshman year and I will have her again my seinor year. My freshman year we read "Romieo and Juliet" and this was before her "PBL" aproach to learning and I found it much easier to do the work and write the papers than it is now. I think that "PBL" should be started with a specific year or students and be continued with them through high school, not implimented to them now.

Mother's picture

As a parent speaking on behalf of many parents, project-based learning has become a HUGE topic of discussion - especially among parents of high-achievers. The minute we hear the words "group projects" (aka PBL), we roll our eyes in disgust! I understand the concept, but it rarely plays out the way teachers would like. Here is what ends up happening: Joe, Sally, Jim, Sue, and Tim are grouped together for a project. They need to finish the project outside of class. This requires them getting together at someone's house. One of these students is known for using drugs. Do I want my kid at their house? No. Another student is known for constantly being absent. They didn't even show up the day they were grouped with these kids. Another student is not able to get together with the others because the parents are not responsible enough to get their child to anyone's house because they are too busy with their own life. This leaves 2 kids, who hopefully know each other to some extent and trust each other. These 2 get together at one house, work for many hours with the materials that ONLY THEIR parents purchased, and they complete the project at their highly competitive level. What happens when they get back in class? ALL 5 GET THE SAME GRADE FOR WHICH ONLY 2 DID THE WORK. Ask any responsible parent with a responsible child. We are tired of it! What this teaches them is that 3 out of 5 adults will take a free ride. Nice life lesson.

Andrea van der laan's picture
Andrea van der laan
Elementary principal/Wyoming Public Schools

As a former teacher of a multiage setting, I am excited by the prospect of bringing project based learning back to the forefront. When I used this concept with my students, I experienced high levels of student engagement. When student knew up front what would be looked for within projects, they were much more willing to work for quality and give their best efforts.

Andrea van der laan's picture
Andrea van der laan
Elementary principal/Wyoming Public Schools

As a former multiage teacher, I am excited by the prospect of project based learning coming back to the forefront. When I integrated curriculum and used projects in the classroom, I saw high levels of student engagement. When students knew up front what the learning expectations were, they were more willing to learn, keep track of their progress, revise and go for quality learning. These were the best years of my teaching experience. If I were to ever go back to the classroom, I would never teach in any other fashion.

Adrienne Michetti's picture

"Research also indicates that students are more likely to retain the knowledge gained through this approach far more readily than through traditional textbook-centered learning."

I realize this article is now 3 years old, but does anyone have links to comprehensive research done on PBL? I've read the article by Linda Darling-Hammond et al (http://www.edutopia.org/inquiry-project-learning-research) but I'd really like to see some large-scale studies done.

Lind's picture

I took two courses in the past year a huge chunk of which was on inquiry-based learning. This introduction of Project-based learning reminds me of that. They sound like talking about the same thing or at least something very similar. What does the group think?

Jamie ONeil's picture


First, I'm trying to do is to get students to speak and write proper English and proofread their writing before they turn it in, and I would not accept that sentence from a student.


Really? You explore ALL the world's problems in one unit? Tough class.


This is avoided by GOOD TEACHING and planning.


So you think they should just memorize it for long enough to take a test? And, PBL isn't to 'teach them to retain knowledge,' it's to encourage them to discover solutions to real-world problems - solutions that demonstrate how relevant the subject is.

Lastly, I am unable to recall if the SAT has "group projects" on it.

So your profession is all about teaching the SAT? Boring.

For those of you with your MA. Did you formulate thesis, reasearched your thesis, and defended your thesis? Did you do it by yourself, or were part of a small group?

Every class I took required group work be done. Every single one. The thesis was basically finding a solution to a problem. Exactly what PBL helps students learn.

I bet you are one of those teachers students dread having to take classes from and teach a class students remember nothing from.

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