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Project-Based LearningTeachers

What is Project-Based Learning?…And Why is it so Cool?

By August 22, 2018No Comments

My colleague at Educurious, Jenny Aguilar asked me to write a blog post for our new website.  The questions she asked me were, “What is project-based learning?  And why is it so cool for students and teachers?”

First, let’s take a look at what it is.

Project-based learning is a student-centered way of teaching that provides the opportunity for students to cultivate contemporary skills like problem solving, collaboration, perseverance, communication, and empathy. Students acquire deeper learning through active exploration of real-world challenges and problems.  They work with others over an extended period of time, strengthen their expertise, and present their solutions to a real audience who are invested in the problem students are trying to solve.

When we think about project-based learning, we think about three big ideas:

  1. Students grapple with complex problems that are both authentic and relevant.  
  2. They do this through engagement with a variety of resources, and through collaboration with others, as they sort through multiple perspectives on the problem – and of course, citing evidence for their opinions!
  3. They showcase their work reflecting craftsmanship, literacy skills, and connections to the world beyond the classroom.

In What is Rigorous Project-Based Learning,  Angela DeBarger and others describe four pillars of high-quality project-based learning:

  • Purposeful and authentic project experiences.
  • Deep integration of core disciplinary content and practices.
  • Enhanced by meaningful and supportive interactions.
  • Implemented using evidence-based teaching and assessment practices.

So why do students and teachers think it’s so cool?

Teachers are always eager to find ways that light up learning in their classrooms.  That’s what called us to teach and that’s why we show up every day. The research has been very clear.  High-quality project-based learning increases student engagement. But, rigorous project-based learning is not an easy approach to pull off and that’s why we encourage strong collaboration between PBL teachers to enable them to:

  • provide support, empathy, and inspiration for each other and their students.
  • facilitate thinking, growth, and engagement.
  • generate classroom activities based off of understanding and connections with students.
  • feel safe to experiment.

Hear from teachers themselves using Educurious project-based learning curriculum:

I love the idea of instilling a sense of agency in students who are so used to always being told what to do. Filmmaking, in particular, is an excellent way for students to engage in real work, to be involved in processes that are not always linear, but that lead to products that can be shared publicly. It seems that allowing students to engage in “real work” makes them more accountable in an authentic way.

I’d like to share an experience that I have seen time and time again with my students – students becoming experts. Seeing my students who were once not interested in class, or the one in particular who has said he was just waiting to turn 16 to drop out, and now he had the experience to not only excel at making his own Special Commentary Video, but to be an expert. He was so far ahead of the other students in his group that I asked him to do me a favor and help out a few students. At first he looked around, then he said to me, “I have never been asked to help anybody with anything.” He turned out to be the best helper, and I am sure that moment changed his life.

A turning point for me in implementing PBL in my science classroom was how the kids are able to make more individual connections to their learning. As one example, for the DNA Barcoding individual design plan I had a student whose plan involved barcoding mosquitoes. He wanted to see which mosquitoes from our area are capable of carrying the West Nile virus. He chose the topic because he had a family friend who had passed away from the disease. If we were not in the middle of winter I think it would have been a great design plan for the group experiment.

When you are trying to persuade someone you have to create alliances.  Who else might agree with me?

Good PBL in social studies gets students to consider who might support their argument, their project, their ideas? Who might disagree? What can I learn from this?

We know you all have excellent definitions, and more importantly, stories to share about why project-based learning is so cool for students and teachers.  

What stories will you share with us?  Tag us on social @educurious.