“Project based learning transforms students by inspiring them to think differently about themselves as learners, collaborators, and leaders.” Buck Institute for Education
What is Project Based Learning?
The Buck Institute for Education defines project based learning as a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.
Project based learning has received an extreme makeover with the advent of technology in the classroom. It used to be that students could collaborate on dioramas, reports, or poster board projects. They might do some research at the library, but they were limited to the resources available.
Now, students have the entire world at their fingertips. They can find anything online - and they can create even more.
One way that teachers integrate the wealth of information available to students is through developing project based learning units and activities. In project based learning, students are often tasked with finding the solution to a problem. They are asked to research and create. Projects are often done in groups, so students are asked to collaborate and communicate. They tend to learn much more than the subject at hand as they have to tap into their research skills and their creativity.
What Do Students Learn?
In addition to working on a project for an extended period, students tackle academically challenging content. Projects are designed with direction from teachers to cover the required curriculum, and often students learn the material in much more depth as they experience it first hand rather than from a lecture. In the process, they develop critical thinking skills and problem-solving skills.
Additionally, students develop skills of sustained inquiry. They work continuously on the same project, so they have to modify and reflect on their work. They have to decide if their solution to a problem is working or if it needs to be adjusted. They also have to apply information found in research and ensure that they are working to complete the required tasks. This develops the skills of self-reflection and self-management.
Project based learning also gives students a voice in their learning experience. They tackle problems according to a plan of their choosing. In designing their approach to a problem, they can create an authentic learning experience for themselves. They shape their response to a question using their own backgrounds and interests. In doing this, they are more likely to remember what they learn and to be invested in outcomes of their learning.
Finally, students achieve deep learning. They may be required to explain or defend their solutions or their strategies. And they may be asked to revise their own work or critique the work of classmates. The learning process continues even after a response to a problem is created. This experiential learning method creates ownership in the process and increases the chance that new information will be retained.