What is Project Based Learning?
By Buck Institute for Education | 18 Commercial Boulevard | Novato, CA 94949 |Phone: 415.883.0122
For the past 22 years, the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) has worked with school districts and networks, state and federal educational agencies, Ministries of Education, advocacy organizations, foundations and university partners to expand the use of effective project based learning. This work is global in scope, and BIE has conducted professional development workshops in the United States, Brazil, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore and South Africa.
In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. While allowing for some degree of student “voice and choice,” rigorous projects are carefully planned, managed, and assessed to help students learn key academic content, practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking), and create high- quality, authentic products & presentations.
Rigorous and in-depth Project Based Learning:
- Is organized around an open-ended Driving Question or Challenge. These focus students’ work and deepen their learning by centering on significant issues, debates, questions and/ or problems.
- Creates a need to know essential content and skills. Typical projects (and most instruction) begin by presenting students with knowledge and concepts and then, once learned, give them the opportunity to apply them. PBL begins with the vision of an end product or presentation which requires learning specific knowledge and concepts, thus creating a context and reason to learn and understand the information and concepts.
- Requires inquiry to learn and/or create something new. Not all learning has to be based on inquiry, but some should. And this inquiry should lead students to construct something new – an idea, an interpretation, a new way of displaying what they have learned.
- Requires critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication. Students need to do much more than remember information— they need to use higher- order thinking skills. They also have to learn to work as a team and contribute to a group effort. They must listen to others and make their own ideas clear when speaking, be able to read a variety of material, write or otherwise express themselves in various modes, and make effective presentations. These skills, competencies and habits of mind are often known as “21st Century Skills.”
- Allows some degree of student voice and choice. Students learn to work independently and take responsibility when they are asked to make choices. The opportunity to make choices, and to express their learning in their own voice, also helps to increase students’ educational engagement.
- Incorporates feedback and revision. Students use peer critique to improve their work to create higher quality products.
- Results in a publicly presented product or performance. What you know is demonstrated by what you do, and what you do must be open to public scrutiny and critique.
If we are serious about reaching 21st Century educational goals, PBL must be at the center of 21st Century instruction. The project contains and frames the curriculum, which differs from the short “project” or activity added onto traditional instruction. PBL is, “The Main Course, not Dessert.”
Why use PBL?
Students gain a deeper understanding of the concepts and standards at the heart of a project. ! Projects also build vital workplace skills and lifelong habits of learning. Projects can allow students to address community issues, explore careers, interact with adult mentors, use technology, and present their work to audiences beyond the classroom. PBL can motivate students who might otherwise find school boring or meaningless.
How is PBL used?
Some teachers use PBL extensively as their primary curriculum organizer and instructional method. Others use PBL occasionally during a school year. Projects vary in length, from several days to several weeks or even a semester. PBL can be effective at all grade levels and subjects, and in career/technical education, afterschool and alternative programs.