EDTECH 542 – What is Project Based Learning?

What is Project Based Learning?

In project based learning there is an overarching guided question that will drive instructions, discussion, and learning experiences.  Project based learning possess elements of student choice in achieving the end goal.  This essential question creates a “need to know” for students, according to the Introduction to Project Based Learning. This is similar to the theories behind quest based learning.  Students that feel there is a choice of activity, assignment, or path to the end learning result are more likely to be invested in the learning itself making them feel connected and the learning more meaningful to them.

In project based learning it is essential to incorporate the 21st century skills of communication and collaboration.  This will aid students to develop skills in alignment with the Common Core State Standards of becoming college and career ready.  It is important for students to develop inquiry skills by identifying ways to answer the overarching question.  Often times when looking into a larger broad question it can lead to small subtopic questions to answer.  This development of questions leading to answers is inquiry.


As students learn more about the topic, their research, questions, and end product will go through a series of revisions.  The refinement of the project through the collaborative process as a result of findings to their in depth inquiry of the topic is what makes this learning so valuable.  The evolving of the individual schema through meaningful application is an invaluable  skill for students to develop.

In project based learning, the end result of the project is designed to be shared through a public forum.  For example, students creating a public service announcement about the dangers of drugs and alcohol use that is then played on the local radio station or on the school’s morning announcements.

As described by John Larmer in a blog post on Edutopia, the major differences between project based and problem based learning are in essence the time it takes for project completion, project based is multidisciplinary vs. problem based tends to focus around a single subject, and project based tends to be more based in real world scenarios as where problem based is more based upon case studies.

Why should teachers consider incorporating PBL in their classroom?

The Buck Institute for Education states that Project Based learning is important to uses in the classroom because more than ever are disengaged in the learning process.  Their research has found that when using PBl students retain the goals of the learning much longer than that of a traditional educational model of instruction.  When PBL experiences are designed to include community involvement it can often create more community support for the school and it’s educators.  The lasting effect of well designed and implemented PBLs can be invaluable public relations for the school as well as the community partners.

What are the essential components of a PBL approach to instruction?

According to the Buck Institute for Education, the Essential Elements of Project Based Learning are as follows:

  • “Significant Content – At its core, the project is focused on teaching students important knowledge and skills, derived from standards and key concepts at the heart of academic subjects.
  • 21st century competencies – Students build competencies valuable for today’s world, such as problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity/innovation, which are explicitly taught and assessed.
  • In-Depth Inquiry – Students are engaged in an extended, rigorous process of asking questions, using resources, and developing answers.
  • Driving Question – Project work is focused by an open-ended question that students understand and find intriguing, which captures their task or frames their exploration.
  • Need to Know – Students see the need to gain knowledge, understand concepts, and apply skills in order to answer the Driving Question and create project products, beginning with an Entry Event that generates interest and curiosity.
  • Voice and Choice – Students are allowed to make some choices about the products to be created, how they work, and how they use their time, guided by the teacher and depending on age level and PBL experience.
  • Critique and Revision – The project includes processes for students to give and receive feedback on the quality of their work, leading them to make revisions or conduct further inquiry.
  • Public Audience – Students present their work to other people, beyond their classmates and teacher” (BIE, 2015).

What are the current and potential issues surrounding the use of Project Based Learning in traditional or nontraditional schools?

When reflecting upon the theory behind PLB, thinking about designing my own project that could be job-embedded and useful to my current practice, I have numerous concerns. As outlined in A Review of Research on Project Based Learning, “these factors include fixed and inadequate resources, inflexible schedules, and incompatible technology…According to Hertzog, the physical organization of the school, limitations on time available for learning, and the perceived need on the part of teachers to structure time in order to cover all academic subjects tend to interfere with the effectiveness of Project-Based Learning for integrating subject matter areas and providing for in-depth learning.” (Thomas, 2000, p. 28).  As an employee in a traditional school setting where I don’t have control of my schedule in terms of length of class, how often we meet, and in general my class isn’t ”core content” of math or ela the same value isn’t place on it in terms of student work completion or completion/continuation of learning outside of class.  Given these parameters in a traditional setting I foresee instituting PBL in it’s best form a challenge.  With that said, however, I see having this in a more non-traditional setting such as an afterschool program much more likely to succeed because scheduling can be more flexible.  Much of this learning theory present reminds me of Destination Imagination in it’s theory and practice.


Larmer, J. (2014, January 6). Project-Based Learning vs. Problem-Based Learning vs. X-BL. Retrieved January 18, 2015, from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/pbl-vs-pbl-vs-xbl-john-larmer


Larmer, J., & Mergendoller, PhD, J. (2010, January 1). 8 Essentials for Project-Based Learning (by BIE) | Project Based Learning | BIE. Retrieved January 18, 2015, from http://bie.org/object/document/8_essentials_for_project_based_learning

Thomas, J. (2000, March 1). A REVIEW OF RESEARCH ON PROJECT-BASED LEARNING. Retrieved January 18, 2015, from http://www.bobpearlman.org/BestPractices/PBL_Research.pdf

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s