George Lucas Educational Foundation
Education Trends

Does Project-Based Learning Lead to Higher Student Achievement?: Understanding the Benefits of PBL

May 18, 2006

The Edutopia Web site regularly publishes examples of innovative teachers who use project-based learning (PBL). From Eeva Reeder's high school geometry class to Newsome Park's project-dominated approach, we know that more and more educators are using projects to engage and challenge students, integrate curricular areas, and promote higher-order thinking skills.

Every PBL proponent says it's a better way to teach and learn. Teachers and students say they wouldn't go back to the old way of doing things. So, why aren't more people doing it? What I most often hear is that there isn't time because students need to be taught so much material for high-stakes tests. This rationale implies that people view PBL as "extension units" -- simply fun, hands-on activities. If that's what you think, you're not thinking twenty-first-century PBL.

The teachers I know who truly understand how to do PBL design projects (and accompanying assessments) do so with curricular standards in mind. They include students in development of project ideas that are real and important to the kids. They focus on an "essential" or "critical" question that guides the PBL-investigation process. They think about assessment at the beginning and decide on project deliverables that allow for multiple forms of assessment. All this good planning and thinking leads to students who are well-prepared for tests. (The assessment issue is an interesting one, and I'll muse more on that in a future posting.)

Here's the challenge I put out to you great teachers who believe in the PBL approach and who believe you do it well. Whether it's right or wrong, in order for PBL to be more prevalent in our education system, we need the evidence that everyone is asking for: that PBL is correlated with higher test scores. If you're teaching primarily through a PBL approach, tell us what you do, how you do it, and how you know PBL met the mark with the whole testing-conundrum issue.

If you're new to PBL and want to know why so many of us put our eggs in the PBL basket, visit Place-Based Learning MEASURES Up: Tips on Local Learning on the what, why, and how of project-based learning. You should also consider these other great resources: the Buck Institute for Education's Project Based Learning Handbook and The Online Resource for PBL.

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