Why Teach with Project-Based Learning?: Providing Students With a Well-Rounded Classroom Experience | Edutopia
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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
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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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Take A. Breather's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I think a lot of people here are missing the forest for the trees. If college students today are not well prepared compared to their predecessors, that's because we're sending too many students to college. College should be for students who are A) bright, B) hardworking, and C) interested in academic learning. That would probably mean sending far fewer students to college than we have been in recent decades.

I think much of this push to send kids to college relates to a confusion between cause and effect. Because college graduates back in the 50's, when few people went to college, were typically more "successful" (in quotes because it's a subjective term anyway), people thought, "Wow, if you send a kid to college, he'll be a success." When the truth is, most people who succeeded after college had gone to college because they already had the chops to be successful: they were bright, hard working, and interested in their subjects (or in some cases--for instance our current President--just well connected and charismatic). College did not make them successful.

As for project based learning, it is usefeul for helping students find things that interest them, which is at least as important as pedagogy. If getting students interested in learning is the main goal, the solution is simple-get rid of all the boring teachers. (The students will have no trouble telling you which teachers those are.)

Melissa R's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have read and appreciate all of the thoughts about project based learning. As an educator, the concept of students learning from one another, sharing ideas and creativity, using technology for a presentation or research etc. are all grandiose. I would love to expect that all of these things are taking place when I differentiate the product of the material by using the project based learning approach. In reality, they are not. As a parent of three children that have gone through several "projects" in their formative years of education, I will observe that at least half of the educators that use this method are not using it to the benefit of all of the students. The following are a few of the examples I have witnessed quite frequently. At the elementary level, if not monitored and completed at school, the projects are completed by a well meaning parent so that their child will receive a grade of excellent. At middle school, the students try to beat the system by getting in the group with the over achievers so that they can just watch and receive the same grade. At high school, again, the project ends up being completed by the student that needs the "A" to make certain that their GPA does not suffer. The end result: The leader may have learned more but the rest of the group did not glean the benefits because their participation was not seen as "good enough" and they end up just letting the leader do it all.

I know there are other teachers that monitor and use this theory very well. My point is that as educators, please do not just use the "catch phrase" to convince yourself that you are doing the best for your students and providing them with a "best Practice" for learning through cross curricular education.

Dara DeVicariis's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hello Renee,
I teach Earth Science in a lower-middle-class high school and I do agree with you that project-based learning has its merits in that it connects students to the material in a realistic way. Students learn to think outside box and it allows for free thinking and creative ideas. The projects do need to connect to the standards demanded by NCLB and school districts. But I also agree with the college instructor. They have to know the basics of the standards before they can apply thier new ideas, this includes the ability to read critically, read between the lines, and write effectively and accurately.
I would like to know if anyone has created this balance effectively and without student resentment and how they did it?

James Charnock's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Problem solving can be fun or frustrating, but it almost always absorbs the students, attention-wise, and results in learning--and the more individual, than group, the effort is, the better; there are exceptions, of course. Project Learning, on the other hand, can be made just as effective if the students have to work on a self-chosen (teacher approved) project by him/herself. Sure, the students can consult whomever they wish, but they, only, are responsible for the result. Do some parents stick their noses into their child's project too much--just like they do for regular homework and other school-oriented projects? Some do. The world is not perfect. Teachers can thwart parental efforts (not encouragement) by having the student answer some general or pointed questions about the project once it is finished--questions that neither the parent nor student have any clue about, content-wise, in advance.

I also think that most projects can be subjected to data collecting--the use of math skills (graphing, for example); and oral reporting--the use of English/speaking skills. So, even if a student is "over helped," s/he will have to grapple with the information collected.

Mike Leslie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

College teacher Renee. You and your institution will quickly learn over the next few years what is obvious to many. Many post secondary institutions continue to find yourselves in the dark ages and out of touch with real world issues. Our world has changed and what we have looked for in the past from students is not what the world needs and demands now. Students will graduate with a degree yet their employers continue to say that these new employees lack many of skills necessary to be productive in their work. As your enrollment continues to drop, you will be forced to the realization that what you have to offer students is not what they want and not what the world needs. "We can't solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." (Einstein)

If project-based learning is grounded with essential skills and employability skills, those issues you put forward should begin to disappear. One of the reasons students are lacking in a number of the areas you mentioned is the fact that they see no relevance to their learning, no link to the real world. You need to conduct some reasearch on Gen Y'ers to study their characteristics and why they are the way they are. You and I have created them and nurtured them to be who and what they are today. You believe they will get better at writing if they write more. They will get better at writing if they understand why they need to....show me the relevance and then let me write about what I'm interested in, not what a teacher says I have to write about. Just read the lines of many rap artists or song witers who dropped out of school because they hated writing about Shakespeare and wanted to write about their own interests.

We continue with the theory of driving square pegs into round holes and hope that it works. Renee, it doesn't work and you are seeing the end results. Conduct some research on the topic before you respond to it. Programs such as project-based learning heighten the expectations for all students by increasing the complexity, breadth and depth of their in-school learning,; providing opportunities for them to make connections with people and within and across disciplines; and causing them to take action, to build relationships, and to collaborate in teams to create knowledge. This type of learning also provide opportunities for students to create links among school, learning, the community, and the future, and to develop transferrable skills necessary to fully engage in our knowledge-based society.

A Boomer who has seen the light.

Jeana Rossie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As an educator I say "Amen." Before you can build anything there must be a foundation. You want to be an architect? Learn math.

Christina Nakazaki's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Too much of anything is always a bad thing. However, project based learning is a great way to balance a traditional education. If you first teach students the basics, then they can apply what they have learned through project-based learning. In doing so, students are able to demonstrate critical thinking and higher levels of achievement. By differentiating instruction and providing project based learning opportunities, teachers can ignite passion and intrinsic motivation within their students. Teachers must do more than just teach the material, they need to teach the students. Regardless, it all comes down to balance.

Cristy Vonderembse's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I work at a community college. I agree with John that many college students are unprepared for college. Project learning can be very beneficial and engaging for students. I do believe that a variety of teaching strategies are required to meet the learning needs of the students. Many students fail to develop a strong foundation in reading, writing and math. Without these basic foundations students have a difficult time succeeding in college. "Although they need to have experiences in all learning styles, they will learn and remember more when working in a style that best fits their abilities and preferences" (Kottler, Zehm, & Kottler, 2005, p.33).

pat darlene's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It sounds as if you are a proponent of the "teaching to the test" education theory. Unfortunately, this type of teaching is missing a great deal of important aspects of a well-rounded education for the children. It also does not address the various learning styles that individuals have. For example, the skill of working in groups is highly desirable in many areas of employment that these students will be seeking in their future. The work place is changing and education needs to be aware of that. Therefore, we cannot continue to have low-tech, 3 R's type of education. I am not a new educator. I have 20 years of experience as an educator. I have tried various scheduling (block, regular) and have seen many changes during those years. Your statement that educators are not thinking critically has no basis for fact.

Maya's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Projects don't cover enough material. One mom told me that her daughter was struggling in college history because she had never learned about anything in history but Martin Luther King. To get a good overview of history and science, a student needs to be taught a good overview. Projects don't supply an overview, that's why PBL is called jigsawing. They also do NOT provide depth as they are touted to - all you have to do to prove this is to ask a high school senior a few questions about World War II, for example: which countries fought in it and when, what were the main causes of the war, and how did it end. They can't do it. And these questions' answers reflect only a superficial knowledge of the war. How many teachers here can answer those questions, plus elaborate a bit on the events that led to war and the after-effects of the war, and can name the leaders of the countries involved? Ah, here is the reason why teachers love project-based knowledge: because too many teachers don't have a basic core of knowledge themselves. Apparently, when they were in school, they were allowed to learn only what "interested" them.

Reading teachers' comments here is like reading the comments of the members of a cult. You question nothing that has been fed to you in ed school. You spout beliefs that cannot be proven. There is no evidence that the average student must use several "intelligences" to learn. There isn't even evidence of multiple intelligences! Most students are quite capable of reading, writing, thinking, and speaking if they are taught to do so.

And John Q. Public, I love you!

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