Project-based learning (PBL), defined by Sylvia Chard as the “in-depth investigation of a real-world topic worthy of children’s attention and effort” (Curtis), is the ultimate ‘respecter’ of our students’ time and trust. Proponents of PBL differentiate between ‘knowledge’ and ‘learning’. Knowledge consists of acquired information, skills, and concepts; learning is what students can do with their knowledge (Epps).
(Please click thumbnails to view videos.)
PBL is a way to ensure that students gain both. Attaching new knowledge to be acquired to familiar contexts helps students ‘make meaning’ and improves retention. “Freely crossing disciplines” and simulating real-world roles in the classroom (Edutopia Staff, 2008) ensures deep learning — i.e. the ability to transfer knowledge and apply it in new contexts. This approach to teaching “inspires” (locus is in the learner) rather than motivates (locus is in the teacher) by capturing students’ interests with challenging and thought-provoking questions or problems to be solved.
Pedagogical justifications for project-based learning include the following:
(a) It is a systematic approach that focused more on what the students will learn and less on what the teacher will do in class. PBL puts the onus on students to engage actively in their education. It helps them “develop confidence and self-direction” as they take responsibility for both group and individual work (Edutopia Staff, 2008).
(b) “Successful learners start with a pool of ideas they already understand and embeds new ones into the pool” (Abbot). Likewise, through PBL students integrate new skills, learning abilities, and attitudes into their pre-existing pools (as per the “Transfer-Meaning-Acquisition” model of Wiggins & Tighe). PBL fosters growth in both the cognitive and affective domains by drawing students up their respective staircases shown below.
(c) If our mission “is not [just] to help students get good at school, but rather to prepare them for the world beyond school” (Wiggins & Tighe), then by putting them into situations that mimic the real world, PBL helps them generalize what they learn inside a classroom to life beyond its four walls.
Skills important in both the academic and real worlds — organization and research, communications with co-workers and adults, working as part of a team, time management, giving and using constructive feedback, personal and social responsibility — are all developed as students learn by doing. PBL also “provides teachers with an effective way to integrate technology into the curriculum” (Edutopia Staff, 2008).
(d) PBL recognizes that “the search for meaning takes a different route for each student” (Brooks & Brooks). Where more linear, traditional models may leave students who struggle languishing at the lowest level of knowledge acquisition (especially in subjects such as math) and never give them a chance them to try higher order tasks, PBL is also more inclusive. It provides for greater differentiation by challenging the notion that students must learn all the important facts and basic skills before they can . . . apply what they do know in more complex and authentic ways (Wiggins & Tighe).
(e) Because assessment and evaluation are performance-based and participatory, both are more meaningful and lead to real change in the students (Edutopia Staff, 2008; Epps). Confusion is avoided because the expectations for learning and the criteria by which quality will be judged are established at the outset.
(f) PBL leads to improvements in student performance. This is a point of agreement among educators, parents, students, and community members (see last week’s readings and videos) and is also borne out by numerous studies using standardized tests and other assessment instruments. (Edutopia Staff, 2001).
(g) Finally, project-based learning challenges teachers to grow professionally. If we are going to start from the premise that for students just knowing information is not enough — i.e. that they want to move from knowing to understanding — then we ourselves have to understand not only what knowledge we want our students to acquire, but also why and how it will actually be of use to them. (Epps) Taking on the challenge of developing high quality PBL experiences must involve us teachers in serious reflection and refinement of our practices thereby keeping our work “dynamic and open to change” (Gore & Ladwig). We can then become strong role models for our students because we will value for ourselves this complex process in which we want them to engage.
Abbot, John. Building Knowledge: Constructivism in Learning. Video posted by changelearning in YouTube, 2008. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F00R3pOXzuk
Brooks & Brooks — assignment reading
Curtis, D. Start with the Pyramid: Real-World Issues Motivate Students. Article in Edutopia, 2001. http://www.edutopia.org/start-pyramid
Edutopia Staff (2001) — assignment reading
Edutopia Staff. Why Teach with Project-Based Learning?: Providing Students with a Well-Rounded Classroom Experience. Article in Edutopia, 2008. http://www.edutopia.org/project-learning-introduction
Epps, Beverly Office Chat: Understanding by Design (with Dr. J. St. Clair at University of Mary Washington, VA). Video posted by jstclairatumw in YouTube, 2008. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JBt_GjOYXYM
Gore, J. and Ladwig, J. Professional Learning, Pedagogical Improvement, and the Circulation of Power . Paper presented in Melbourne, 2004. https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/proflearn/docs/pdf/qt_gor04814.pdf
The Learning Process. Diagram (#2 above) of Affective Domain, Dynamic Flight Inc, 2003. http://www.dynamicflight.com/avcfibook/learning_process/
Smythe, K. and Halonen, J.Using the New Bloom’s Taxonomy to Design Meaningful Learning Assessments , Diagram (#1 above) of Cognitive Domain, APA ONLINE, 2009. http://www.apa.org/ed/new_blooms.html#
Wiggins & Tighe — assignment reading