5 tips for successful project-based learning

Gary FalconSchool Management

Research shows that Project-Based Learning leads to better long-term retention and skill development, as well as has higher levels of both teacher and student satisfaction than traditional teaching approaches. Experts in education also say that PBL helps students make connections to the real world, which helps students better understand why they are learning the things they are.

What is Project-Based Learning?

Project-based learning isn’t a new idea – it has been around as long as education has. In fact, the idea that learning is best accomplished by critical thinking, questioning, and applying it to real life can be traced back to Aristotle and Socrates

According to the Buck Institute for Education, PBL is a teaching method where students work for an extended period of time to research and solve a question, problem, or challenge. There are eight main components of PBL, which BIE calls Essential Project Design Elements:

  1. Key knowledge, understanding, and success skills – There are student learning goals, both content and skills related.
  2. Challenging problem or question – There is a meaningful problem or question to solve.
  3. Sustained inquiry – Students must ask questions, do research, and make decisions based on this information.
  4. Authenticity – The project has real-world connections and engages students in their communities or lives in some way.
  5. Student voice and choice – Students get choices in their topics/projects and how they choose to complete them.
  6. Reflection – Students reflect on the learning process and what they’ve accomplished.
  7. Critique and revision – Students peer review and revise their projects.
  8. Public product – Students share their work with others outside of the classroom.

PBL is true student-centered learning because every step of the process is in the student’s hands. Of course, incorporating PBL in an elementary classroom might involve more structure and intervention from teachers than in a high school classroom, but the basics remain the same across age groups.

 Why is PBL so popular right now?

A few things can be connected to the increase in popularity for PBL. First off, research on the efficacy of project-based learning is mostly recent, and educators and administrators are taking notice of the benefits for students. More pragmatically, advances in technology allow students to more easily complete projects. Students have quick and easy access to more information than ever before, as well as a place to showcase their completed work for others to see. For example, using a learning management system, such as Twine, makes it easy for teachers to track project progress and students to see each other’s work once it is done.

What should I keep in mind if I want to use PBL in my school?

Thom Markham, a psychologist and educator, recommends five considerations for teachers and administrators to keep in mind when using Project-Based Learning in their schools.

  1. See PBL as a mind shift, not a method.

Rather than coming up with a student project as a way of checking a box in lesson plans for the day, think of PBL as an overall approach to learning. To really levitate a lesson from a regular old project to true PBL, students need to see and appreciate the learning process, not just the end result of a project.

  1. Put challenge first

Although it is easy to rely on expectations/standards/outcomes as the framework for your project, try to remember that the challenge of solving the problem is what PBL is really all about. The ESOs will – and should – align with the project, but shouldn’t be the driving force.

  1. Get a lot better at driving questions

Driving questions are what makes the difference between a challenging and ultimately successful project and a typical class activity. Questions should encourage thought from students and lead them to a solution or answer without pushing them towards inside-the-box thought processes.

  1. Turn skills and content into one conversation

Rather than having separate lessons about research strategies or critical thinking, incorporate them into your projects. PBL is about a complete learning experience where students are gathering skills and learning content.

  1. Coach for openness

One of the best benefits of PBL is that it can empower students to want to learn more or do more. Seeing that they are capable of finding a solution or helping their community can be a game-changer for students and can inspire them to engage more in the lifelong learning process. Want to know more? Contact us.