What is Project-Based Learning?
Project-based learning in less than five minutes So this is me in the eighth grade. I was a combination of shy and nerdy. Like, my whole goal was to remain invisible. I had one friend, this kid named Matt. We were two nerds in a pod, and fortunately for me, he had perfect attendance. Until, one day he didn’t. He was sick. And, it wasn’t a big deal, but I stood in the cafeteria looking out at the sea of students, hoping someone would invite me over. But it didn’t happen. I hid in the boys restroom for the next 24 minutes. But it worked. I was invisible. But not to Mrs. Smook or Mr. Nair. They knew me. They knew I cared about social justice, and baseball, and history, and so they invited me to do a History Day project. And although it was fun, it was also terrifying. I had to plan my entire project and track my own progress. I had to figure out what questions to ask, and where to find the answer. I had to narrow down the topic to something I cared about, in this case Jackie Robinson and the integration of baseball. I wrote letters to newspapers and made phone calls to former players. I remember picking up the phone, my hands trembling as I read aloud my pre-recorded script and waited for this stranger to respond. I eventually worked on a slide presentation. That’s when the most nerve-wracking moment occurred. I sat in a radio studio, and I heard the script that I had just recorded and I hated it. “I’m not doing it,” I said. But Mrs. Smoot looked me in the eyes and said, “When you hide your voice, you rob the world of your creativity.” And so I continued. I went ahead and I shared it with my class. And then I entered the district competition, and the state competition. And eventually went to Washington DC. And, although I didn’t realize it at the time, you Mrs. Smoot is why I became an educator. This project helped me grow into a creative thinker and problem solver. And that experience is why I ultimately embraced project-based learning as a teacher. Now, I want to put something out. Project-based learning is different from simply a traditional classroom project. Project-based learning involves learning through projects rather than doing culminating projects. It involves student choice in design, instead of just following a set of instructions It includes student inquiry, rather than pre-planned questions. It includes peer and self-assessment, rather than only relying on teacher assessment. And then includes student ownership of the process, rather than just teacher ownership of the process The Buck Institute identifies the following seven project design elements. Number one: challenging problem or question. It has to start with something that truly engages students to solve a problem. Number two: Sustained inquiry. They needed the time to ask questions and explore the answers and engage in meaningful research. Number three: Authentic. It has to feel real to the students and tie into an actual context. Number four: Student voice and choice. They need to be the ones designing the entire project–the entire time. Number five: Reflection. There needs to be frequent reflection along with a final reflection at the end. Number six: Critique and revision. Students need to engage in peer critique and constant iterative revision. And, number seven: Public product. They need to launch their work to an authentic audience. Now, note that project-based learning can work in tandem with other pedagogical models such as, Inquiry-based learning, design thinking and problem-based learning. But the key idea remains the same. The students are engaged in meaningful projects. And through that, they learn at a deeper level.