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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

Gabe Kortuem's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Both in my student teaching at an inner city school in St. Paul, MN and in my current semi-rural highschool, I have witnessed the enthusiasm students have for project based learning.
Even though the initial set-up is time consuming and getting students moving on a project can be difficult, the rewards are well worth the effort.
In my opinion, the best part of project based learning is the ability for one class to create an interdisciplinary assessment without truly being an interdisciplinary task.
Writing in mathematics, art in english, mathematics in social studies; the combinations endless.
Students also enjoy project based learning because students get to work together to accomplish a goal that employs each of their individual talents.

John Tomac's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

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?

Bertha Kaumbulu's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It is correct to assume that learning focuses on individual skills in reading and writing. I have found that knowing how to read and write becomes a prerequisite for project based learning and students soon find this out. It is true that as students move towards higher level thinking the requirements are based on their individual skill levels but research supports situated learning environments in order to scaffold learners who would otherwise fail. At the same time shared knowledge strengthens the understanding of even those students who one might assume to be "brilliant". There should be a balance in everything we do as educators, and of course we learn to apply strategies based on various conditions. The ability to discern is primarily what makes a good teacher.

Tracy's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Do you often get sick when having to learn new things? Maybe you are allergic to education. Students need a balance when it comes to learning. They can digest and spit out all the facts in the world but it won't do them any good if they can't apply the knowledge to do something useful. The reality in the classroom is you have to have students doing more than reading and writing. Anyone who has taught computers in the classroom knows hands-on training is the only way to learn new software. Reading and writing about topics play an important part in the classroom, but so does actively engaging students in projects that require them to utilize knowledge gained from more than one subject. They learn how to communicate with peers as well as one of the most important skills--how to work together to achieve a common goal. I suggest you brush up on 21st century teaching methodology, but more importantly, don't just read about, try it out in your classroom. You just might be surprised.

Michelle's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

When was the last time you used memorization and test taking skills after your GRE or SAT? What information do you remember from studying for your GRE and SAT? Are we preparing students to take a test or are we preparing them for their careers? Where I work, I must work with, motivate and try to get along with teachers and administrators of all kinds; some who like to take charge and others who like to do nothing but get paid. The focus of my job is to think out of the box and how to actively engage students in the learning. Taking tests is the least likely way to get them interested in a subject. Nobody is feeding me the answers on how to attain this. There is no one answer for me to circle when my Head of School wants a study/project done. I need to formulate the question, research, present my findings and sell it to my peers. Project-based learning is what our students need to be doing because that is what they will need to do in their future careers; unless i suppose they want to be a 20th century teacher who is the sage on the stage...

Dorothy G.'s picture
Anonymous (not verified)

John makes some very interesting assumptions. In response, here are a couple of provocations:

How does one "explore all of the world's problems" while focusing one's learning on preparing for the SAT and GRE?

I suppose one might do lots of intellectual "exploring" as a bookworm, but I have yet to see any worldly problem solved in isolation rather than working with other people.

And how is project based learning more "narrow" than studying for standardized tests?

Maria Cruz's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

What is it exactly that teachers are trying to do? Are we here to teach to the test and bore our students to death? Or, are we here to help our students become critical thinkers and help provide them with a high quality education that allows them to navigate our complex society?
It is very easy to teach to the test. A teacher simply needs to read the directions from a book and tell the students to repeat after him or her. Then, students answer the questions from the book. (Would you consider this person an educator?) However, it takes deeper understanding and more preparation in order to teach using methods such as Project Base Learning. There is much research out there that supports Project Based Learning.I suggest that you do the homework. Traditional teaching methods are good if your goal is to semi-prepare students for a standardized test, which will never really be able to assess true knowledge.

As far as having to do, or not having to do, Project Based Learning in order to get a good score in the GRE, I must say that any university that accepts a student "only" because of high scores in the SAT or GRE is not a school worth going in to. With this a do not state that learning through Project Based Learning will lower your scores in standardized test.However, the top schools in this country examine students using a number of factors, many of which relate to what Project Based Learning aims to teach: leadership skills, critical thinking skills, the ability to innovate, and field work. I myself have a master's degree in education from Stanford University and I wasn't accepted simply because of high GRE scores.

A true educator should be able to guide students to new knowledge using various resources and not simply impose knowledge on them.

J Stone's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

It seems like you've never actually seen good examples of project-based learning in action. Your view of it is rather askew. Don't lose sight of the world around us. Look beyond the tests and think about real world skills for a moment. The GRE is necessary to get into grad school, but then once you are in grad school, it's a different story.

For me, every single class involved large amounts of collaboration among students. Most classes, at times, required that the students themselves lead the class. In doing so (either singly or in groups), we were expected to come up with unique and interesting presentations of the material and ways to engage the class. Also, think about the workplace, not many jobs require test-taking skills...

The term "retain knowledge" is general. It's synonymous with "to learn." Perhaps you should study Bloom's Taxonomy a little better, because there is no better way to target some of the higher level skills than through well planned, relevant projects. An informed and creative teacher can make this happen.

deano's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi. It sounds fascinating. I'm curious though... how does the curriculum work? I'm wondering how a teacher can handle 40 different projects, how to measure progress, or even a more basic question: how get students started on a project and continuing it? There should be guidelines for students so that the teacher doesn't have to answer questions when they are asking difficult questions. Furthermore my fear is that (based on actual experience) that they'll be just surfing myspace and youtube. I appreciate some resources.
Thanks.

Diane Demee-Benoit's picture
Diane Demee-Benoit
Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia

Edutopia staff response to Deano:

Hi Deano,

If you are new to project-based learning, here are my recommended readings:

Project-Based Learning Module: While designed as a module for professional developers or teacher trainers, you can use it as a self-paced primer on project-based learning. It's a quick overview of the why, what and how of PBL.

Spiral Notebook blogger Bob Lenz has several great postings about PBL that speak to your questions about getting students started, guidelines, etc. See Structure in Project-Based Learning: The Freedom to Learn Requires Planning and A Place for PBL: Envision Schools's Project Exchange

Blogger Suzie Boss has co-authored a book on Project-Based Learning. See Reinventing Project-Based Learning

Finally, The Online Resource for Project-Based Learning was developed through a U.S. Department of Education grant. It has resources you need to design and manage high quality projects for middle and high school students.

Hope this helps.

Diane Demee-Benoit
Consulting Online Editor

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