Project-based learning (PPL) aims to engage students in exploring real-world issues and challenges in an active, student-centered way.
Instead of a traditional assessment, students in the project-based learning STEM class can engage in a complex project that scales on hands-on work and takes weeks of preparation, but ultimately demonstrates the student’s mastery in the subject and has real-world applications.
Below is everything you need to know about project-based learning as a beginner or veteran teacher looking to better understand this important pedagogy.
What is project-based learning?
Project-based learning is about the practical application of knowledge in the classroom and student-centered learning. Students solve specific real-life problems by working on projects over a long period (often more than a week) that demonstrate their understanding of class content and produce a tangible result. The project is often meaningful to a student, which creates an opportunity to become more invested in creating a solution.
Project-based learning can be STEM-focused and aligned with Next Generation Science Standards (opens in a new tab) and its three main dimensions: transversal concepts, scientific and engineering practices and fundamental disciplinary ideas.
When implemented correctly, proponents believe that project-based learning promotes engagement and deeper learning by encouraging critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity.
In a project-based classroom, projects might include students making a documentary about local animal habitats, investigating local water quality, or creating a virtual museum app examining a relevant moment in the world. ‘story.
Misconceptions and Common Project-Based Learning Mistakes
True project-based learning should not be confused with a traditional “class project”. Traditional classroom projects often fall into a category that PBLworks.org calls (opens in a new tab) “dessert projects”, which they define as short, intellectually light projects that a student presents after the teacher covers the course content in the usual way. In contrast, PBLworks.org notes that in true project-based learning, the project is the unit.
Project-based learning is not easy to implement because it requires a teacher who can guide students through engaging projects that challenge them intellectually and relate to their interests. However, it’s easy to create a project-based learning environment that looks and feels deceptively engaging.
Louis Deslauriers, who researches active learning and is director of science teaching and learning at Harvard University’s School of Arts and Science, says Tech & Learning (opens in a new tab) that he often encounters this type of class when visiting K-12 and higher education classrooms. “I see everyone working hard on spreadsheets,” he says. “They have a sheet of paper in front of them, they talk to each other and try to fill in the worksheet. But when I look closer, I can see that the spreadsheet is actually less than useless. It’s a complete waste of time.
Because of these challenges, Deslauriers advises educators to implement project-based learning only after receiving adequate training in pedagogy.
What does research show about project-based learning?
Critics of project-based learning argue that it devalues the importance of direct instruction, but some to research (opens in a new tab) offers strong support for effectively designed project-based learning classrooms.
A randomized controlled trial compared project-based learning AP classrooms to traditional AP classrooms and found that in project-based learning classrooms, 8% more students completed the class. When teachers in the study taught the same curriculum for a second year, their students outperformed students in a traditional classroom by 10 percentage points.
Another one study (opens in a new tab) third-grade science classes have had similarly positive results. These studies seemingly confirm what many teachers who engage in project-based learning see in the classroom: the practice can engage children and help them get excited about real-life applications of what they’re learning in school. .