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Project-based learning

Project-based learning is a methodology that has been articulated and developed during the last couple of decades. Perhaps the highest profile supporter and developer of project-based learning skills is the Buck Institute for Education (BIE; www.bie.org).

On their website they state:

Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge. Essential Project Design Elements include:

  • Key Knowledge, Understanding, and Success Skills - The project is focused on student learning goals, including standards-based content and skills such as critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, and self-management.
  • Challenging Problem or Question - The project is framed by a meaningful problem to solve or a question to answer, at the appropriate level of challenge.
  • Sustained Inquiry - Students engage in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, finding resources, and applying information.
  • Authenticity - The project features real-world context, tasks and tools, quality standards, or impact – or speaks to students’ personal concerns, interests, and issues in their lives.
  • Student Voice & Choice - Students make some decisions about the project, including how they work and what they create.
  • Reflection - Students and teachers reflect on learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, the quality of student work, obstacles and how to overcome them.
  • Critique & Revision - Students give, receive, and use feedback to improve their process and products.
  • Public Product - Students make their project work public by explaining, displaying and/or presenting it to people beyond the classroom. 

The WEF report on Defining New Models of Education for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (World Economic Forum: Schools of the Future Report 2019) makes a similar point when it highlights project-based learning approaches, requiring peer collaboration and developing team-based skills within the learners.

BIE is committed to ‘helping teachers prepare students for successful lives’. Their contention, summarised from their website would be that:

PBL makes school more engaging for students; PBL improves learning; PBL builds success skills for college, career, and life; PBL helps address standards; PBL provides opportunities for students to use technology; PBL makes teaching more enjoyable and rewarding; PBL connects students and schools with communities and the real world.

Teacher Capacity Critical:

Not all educators would be enthusiasts for project-based learning. In his widely recognised work, Professor John Hattie does not extract a particularly high rating that PBL as a strategy to impact learning (http://visible-learning.org). However, upon close reading, the top strategies that Hattie suggests have the most significant impact upon learning include most of the prerequisites for effective PBL, especially as outlined by the BIE. The problem in some instances, and the key to success, lies in the efficacy of the teacher / learning guide and their own capacity to assess the impact of their teaching and address any shortfalls. 

Quote:

John Mergendoller, a Senior Fellow with the BIE, writes ‘it is less Project Based Learning per se, than the principles of effective teaching and learning that matter . . . the aim is to help students to develop explicit cognitive strategies they can control and can use at their discretion to teach themselves facts, ideas and concepts. Another aim is for students to understand the importance of what they are asked to learn, and the necessity for the deliberate practice of skills, inquiry and problem solving. Teachers play an essential role by evaluating students’ successes and analyzing where and why their performance is wanting.’ 

(PBL Works: "What can we learn from John Hattie about project-based teaching? - Part 2")

Web resources: 

UnLtd: "Social Entrepreneurs Education Exploring Project-Based Learning Flipped Classroom Methods"

PBL Works: "What is PBL?"

Edutopia: "Project-based Learning"

John Larmer and John R. Mergendoller: "Seven Essentials for Project-Based Learning"

Jennifer Gonzalez: "Project-Based Learning"

Project Based Learning via the Buck Institute:

 Innova Schools, Peru: the new Innova Schools use project-based learning in small groups with self-directed time using digital learning tools.

IDEO: Designing a School System From the Ground Up

Application: 

PBL is a frame for many methodologies. Learners spend time engaged in such projects - from self-designed passion projects to collaborative challenges that result in authentic projects for authentic audiences.

A project-based learning approach, like the use of challenge-based learning and quests, provides a logical and accessible scaffold through which to develop learner capacity to understand the multiple aspects of a task. It provides the lens through which a learner can develop their understanding of the connections that link different knowledge to enable solutions.