George Lucas Educational Foundation

What Is Project-Based Learning About?

A description of what teachers can accomplish in the classroom using project-based learning.
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PBL Is Curriculum Fueled and Standards Based

Project-based learning addresses the required content standards. In PBL, the inquiry process starts with a guiding question and lends itself to collaborative projects that integrate various subjects within the curriculum. Questions are asked that direct students to encounter the major elements and principles of a discipline.

PBL Asks a Question or Poses a Problem That Each Student Can Answer

In PBL, the teacher or the students pose a guiding, or essential, question: "What is cystic fibrosis, and how is it caused?" "What would happen if our class formed a business with a real product and started selling stock?" "What will a high school look like in 2050?" "What simple machines can be found in a mill's water wheel?" "How do bacteria in the soil help support life?" "How can we use DNA barcoding to combat the African bushmeat trade?" (These questions are the basis for projects you'll see in articles and videos.)

"The classroom is a place where people can live a fulfilling life together as a community of learners if needs and concerns are appropriately expressed. Problems can be discussed. Support, encouragement, and models can be provided by both teacher and peers. Where expectations for children's learning are high, it is important that the social interaction itself is designed to facilitate learning." -Education researcher Sylvia Chard

There is more information about crafting essential questions in the How Does PBL Work? section.

PBL Allows Students to Delve into Content in a More Direct and Meaningful Way

Recognizing that children have different learning styles, concrete, hands-on experiences come together during PBL. Field trips, experiments, model building, posters, and creation of multimedia presentations are all viable activities within PBL, and present multiple ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge -- there is no one right answer.

PBL Asks Students to Investigate Issues and Topics Addressing Real-World Problems While Integrating Subjects Across the Curriculum

By creating bridges between subjects, students view knowledge holistically, rather than looking at isolated facts. Education scholar Sylvia Chard says on her Project Approach website that the project approach is an "in-depth investigation of a real-world topic worthy of children's attention and effort."

Newsome Park: You can't tear students away from their schoolwork when it involves in-depth investigations with real-world applications.

PBL Fosters Abstract, Intellectual Tasks to Explore Complex Issues

PBL promotes understanding, which is true knowledge. Students explore, make judgments, interpret, and synthesize information in meaningful ways. This approach is more representative of how adults are asked to learn and demonstrate knowledge.

Visit our Project-Based Learning Core Strategy page for more information about PBL.

Continue to the next section of the guide, How Does PBL Work?

Comments (4) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Jack's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

PBL is fun. But its promoters are pretentious with blather about authentic learning, true knowledge, meaningfulness, etc. A lot of students learn the PBL way. And they may love it. I have been a close observer of them. It can't hold a candle to genuine (now its my turn for superlatives) intellectual passion, which is exceedingly rare. It would be a delight to see that championed.
Thanks for hearing my opinion.

Mark Viner's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I would suggest that intellectual passion is an important part of pbl. In fact, are we not as teachers trying to instill a sense of passion for learning, in all students? Students, that have or portray intellectual passion certainly makes our job as educators easier. Perhaps 'intellectual passion' is a goal of pbl.

Pbl is not the solve all of education. They are times when it is not appropriate and a more direct approach/instruction needs to occur. However, I believe, pbl is a valid method of reaching more students in more way because it can lead to that sense of 'intellectual passion' that you spoke of. So, perhaps intellectual passion and pbl can be or are connected.

Personally, I wasn't very good at Math or Chemistry. I didn't have an intellectual passion for either one. Perhaps, if I was given a reason, an authentic learning environment, a learning approach in context ... I would have found my intellectual passion for Math. I highly doubt would have found it for chemistry though. Thoughts of my old chemistry classes still give me a headache.


Jenna Cottone's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I like the idea of PBL because it does give students that hands on experience. It promotes student the opportunity to do instead of hear. For students who are more kinesthetic and visual, PBL will hopefully help students remember the experience more than just going through the motions of everyday projects and learning.

Tanguilan_123's picture

I think PBL is a good curriculum, remember experience is a good teacher. Let the students learn on their own, let them explore.

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