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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.

Comments (95)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Vicki Pruitt's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I found this article very interesting. I think this would be great for middle or high school students, but wonder how it would work for upper elementary students? It takes time to get everything out to begin a project, then, in 25 minutes, it is time to put everything away. I would like feedback on how to make this practically work in an elementary setting. I also am curious about where the money comes from for materials. Do the parents buy it?

Val Razsa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I could not agree more with the article about the benefits of project based learning. I have used this method with 3rd 4th and 5th graders very successfully. Last year as part of a year long world geography study, we focused on India due to my class's intense interest in its culture and relligion. We decided to create a museum about India for the school. I was able to integrate India throughout our curriculum for about 6 weeks. We read books and researched India using internet, books, people, etc. Each student had to pass a India test in order to be a docent in the museum. They were totally motivated and thus I was able to teach study skills very successfully. Reports were written on the wildlife of India. Each child made individual displays and cooperative displays. The learning from this experience was deeper, more real and definitely lasted longer than other learning. At the end of the year as we reflected on our learning, the kids still remembered everything about India (more than I did). This is reenforced my brain research. Activities that utilize different types of learning and have an emotional component will stick longer.

I highly encourage elemntary teachers to use projects for learning.

Jennifer Scimeca's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I found this article to be a good refresher course about project learning. Reading this article has led me to realize all the benefits and advantages in teaching through project learning. Although I have heard about it before, this article did a good job of summarizing the key points. I have not done project learning in my classroom, but I have done something similiar but not as extensive. It all started when a few of my students in the 4th grade expressed interest in global warming. Unfortunately, I could not take a lot of science time to examine this topic so I started a global warming club. This club met twice a week after school. I had the students break down into groups and subtopics with global warming. My students were responsible for finding research on the topic and presenting that information on a posterboard. Then then displayed this information and shared it with other memebers of the 4th grade who were not in the club. I can see that my students were really excited about this and I saw how different skills were being learned throughout the process. I think that is how most project learning topics come about, when the students express interest in them. I hope to try project learning in my classroom.

Janna Conlin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love the idea of project learning. This will open up a whole new world for our students. Students love hands-on activities. The use of technology makes the experience more exciting for the students! As teachers, we all have a lot on our plates (Ex: standardized testing), but allowing students to learn a standard in a fun, innovative way is great. It will be more work on the teacher, but worth the overall effect we have on our students.

Janna Conlin's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that for elementary it is difficult to find the time and money. I would probably have this become a term project that everyone would participate in. Our PTO gives each teacher $200 and I could use this money to give my students this experience. Our media center has video cameras, digital cameras, etc. that we are able to check-out. I am definitely going to give it a whirl!

Nicole's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Project Based Learning

I have been interested in learning more about PBL and was excited when I came upon this article and blog. I hope to find more information and "how to" soon enough to incorporate in my classroom this coming fall. I teach fourth grade and am expecting another group of students who struggle with missing work. I can't help but wonder if PBL will help with this problem. If they truly become interested in their project- I shouldn't feel like I'm pulling teeth for them to participate.

Kimberlee's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love this conversation. There is such a wide range of ideas going on here. It is obvious that John ruffled more than a few feathers. There is no doubt that project-based learning is tricky tricky business. My advice for him - if what you are doing seems to be effective, even if it is just to pass the test, go right on ahead. I might get some negative reaction to that, but there is nothing worse than someone attempting project-based learning if they aren't willing to accept and learn and move with the thing it inevitably becomes. Hopefully the children that pass through that classroom have other opportunities in their educational careers to become well-rounded interested and interesting human beings.

That said, I do want to reitterate how difficult sculpting one of these things can be. In my experience, they often take on a shape of their own and there is no way to force it. Also watch out for those students who love to sit back and let someone else do the work while they get the credit. It sounds like a lot of people here have found ways to circumvent that, but it does lead to some social issues that will have to be dealt with along the way.

Elizabeth's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I have read the article and all of the thoughts posted about Project Based Learning. I am left with some questions. Is there a recommended age or grade level for which Project Based Learning is deemed appropriate? There were several times when working in a group was mentioned. As a student who intensely disliked working in a group, I am led to ask: isn't it also appropriate to allow students to choose a project to research, explore, complete, and present on their own, which for some will be far more meaningful than working in a group?

Scott's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would like to find out more about PBL. It seems to fit into the natural progression of how students learn by doing hands-on activities. I think middle and high schools would benefit from this type of program. In our elementary school we do projects, but not of this magnitude. I wonder how this could be incorporated/integrated into a beginning International Bacalaureate(IB)school.

TJ Sethi's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When I read this response, I started wondering which century did this teacher come from? How strongly opinionated is he? Isn't he almost fanatical in his response to the idea of PBL?

I understand not everybody likes Broccoli, but to put down every broccoli lover is going off the deep end. There is something called toleration, and open-mindedness to ideas divergent from your own. My-way or the-highway is probably the least favored method in education. Most of the current research is towards how Academic Achievement can be humanized, especially because each human being has an internal developmental clock on the basis of which the individual develops and it would be the ideal goal of education to support each individual become the best they can be.

It takes all kinds to make the world, dear sir/madam, that is why I think you have as much right to existence as anyone else, but one day you might be in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and you just might end up saying the wrong thing.

When we can learn to celebrate our diversity we will be the strongest. Mark my words!

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