Project-Based Learning

Maria Avila

Project-Based Learning Research Review by Vanessa Vega

The author of this article ( studies and dissects PBL by describing the steps (from start to finish) involved in creating PBL in the classroom. She also examines and cites a variety of research done on the topic.

What is PBL?

Students learn best by experiencing and solving real world problems.

  • Students learn to fix realistic problems in the same way they would be fixed in the real world.
  • Students have more control over their learning.
  • Teachers act as facilitators not as the person in the room who knows everything.
  • Most of the time students work in pairs or groups.

There can be two types of inquiry based teaching: problem-based learning and project- based learning.

  • In the first type a problem is solved but it doesn't have to have a student project.
  • The second type involves a complex task, where students are expected to produce a finished product.

What are some of the possible learning outcomes?

Studies have compared students who were taught in the traditional way versus the PBL way. When implemented well students in a PBL class have:

  • Better retention of the content.
  • Do just as good or better on high stakes tests, when compared to peers in traditional classrooms.
  • Kids in a PBL environment have better problem-solving and collaboration skills.
  • PBL kids have a better attitude towards learning.
  • PBL provides a model for reforming our schools.

Keys to Project-Based Learning Success

Researchers have targeted the components that are crucial to having a successful PBL:

  • The project or problem has to be real. Kids have to be interested and the project needs to be at an appropriate skill level. The skills and content that will be learned needs to be clearly defined.

  • The groups need to be structured. The groups need to be made up of 3 to 4 students with mixed abilities. The members of the group will depend on each other in order for the project to be successful. There are group rewards and “individual accountability based on student growth.”

  • The kids should be assessed in a variety of ways. The kids should have lots of opportunities to receive feedback and revise their work by way of benchmarks and reflective activities. Their final products (exhibitions, portfolios, performances, reports) should mean something to them and their community. It should be a meaningful contribution that reflects full participation from the kids.

  • Teachers should support each other through a professional learning network. Teachers should talk to other teachers about their experiences in the classroom with PBL. Teachers should take courses in inquiry-based teaching methods.

Tips for avoiding pitfalls.

  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Mistakes should be seen as opportunities to learn and grow. Teachers should be flexible, reflective and model how to deal with mistakes for their students.

  • Teachers need to teach students how to work in groups and how to collaborate before any project can commence. At the beginning of the year teachers should describe and model what working in a group looks like. The norms and routines for group work should be set in place before the work of PBL begins.

  • Kids will encounter discrepancies from a wide variety of resources such as the internet and books. These anomalies need to be embraced. Kids need to be given time to sift through the information to make their own judgments and draw their own conclusions. This helps them to refine their critical- thinking and self- directed learning skills. Researchers recommend providing students with lots of resources such as books, lectures, films, field trips. The resources should offer differing perspectives and kids should have ample time to investigate, apply, discuss, share, and revise their conclusions.

  • Teachers should be realistic and flexible in their planning. Start small and look for problems or projects that are already part of the curriculum.