A Quick Start Guide to Using Project Based Learning (PBL) in the Classroom

July 15, 2014
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A compilation of resources to help get you up to speed with project based learning.

What is Project Based Learning?

According to the Buck Institute of Education, “Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge.” Project based learning is a collaborative learning approach that gives students an opportunity to work towards the development of solutions to realistic problems with the purpose of developing a deeper learning of academic subjects. A well designed PBL undertaking must be perceived as meaningful by students and must fulfill an educational purpose.

How does Project Based Learning differ from a traditional class project?

In most typical classrooms, a project is assigned after teaching has occurred but in project based learning, teaching is done through the execution of a project. At the start of a project, students (and sometimes teachers) are unaware of what they’ll learn and discover; project-based learning is indeed an adventure into the unknown. The Buck Institute of Education’s 8 Essentials for Project Based Learning gives a thorough explanation of the difference between PBL and the traditional notion of “doing a project”.  Amy Mayer’s chart and Paul Curtis’ infographic provide a great visual representation of this difference as well.

PBL versus Doing Projects

How to implement Project-Based Learning in the classroom

Edutopia has a helpful article that offers tips for getting started with PBL with the key point being starting small; “instead of targeting a million standards, focus on a few power standards. Concentrate the learning on one subject rather than multiple disciplines.” The website also has a section that lists some research-proven guidelines for successfully teaching with PBL in the classroom. The Buck Institute of Education’s Project Design Rubric can be used as a “checklist” to ensure your project meets all the criteria of PBL.

Sample PBL projects and Lesson Plans

Before embarking on the PBL approach and designing projects, it is often recommended that teachers study (or even adopt) the projects of more experienced project-based learning practitioners. Below are some links to PBL lesson plan resources:

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