An Introduction To Project Based Learning

An Introduction To Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning (PBL) is coming into its own. The concept isn’t new, but it has gained momentum in America and worldwide. Why? Teachers who incorporate PBL realize the benefit to their students, and I see them too. What is PBL? It is a teaching method where students learn through real-life projects incorporated into the curriculum so that those learning can identify personally with the experience. 

McMaster University in Canada began implementing a project-based learning procedure during the 1960s, and the concept soon became part of the accepted procedure in medical schools. Eventually, students were exposed to real-life scenarios in law and economics courses, among other disciplines. 

The biblical prophet Abraham most likely used PBL as he taught his son, Isaac, how to tend sheep. No doubt, a scene comes to your mind as you read this. Remember the project-based window-washing class you took with your grandma when you were six years old (back when washing windows was still fun)?

Culinary Arts is an example of project-based learning. Baking a souffle is much more rewarding than merely reading the instructions from a cookbook. Historically, which do you remember most? The time you dissected a frog in your 9th-grade science lab or spent an entire month studying the various shapes of leaves from illustrations in your biology book? 

Unfortunately, while you can probably recall one PBL in your high school curriculum, most of your learning came from books. You learned the facts, memorized the facts (or did not), and passed (or failed) a test in which you wrote down all the facts you could remember. Sadly, you forgot all too many of those facts soon after.

I need to be practical here. Not all subjects are as easily adaptable to PBL as others. But as traditional education embraces PBL into its curriculum, long-term learning is undoubtedly improved. As Sylvia Chard, Professor Emeritus of Early Childhood Education at the University of Alberta, Canada, wrote, “One of the major advantages of project work is that it makes school more like real life. It’s an in-depth investigation of a real-world topic worthy of children’s attention and effort.”

To keep heads above water in today’s world, students must move beyond merely learning facts and rehearsing them in an unrelated and out-of-context manner. Don’t get me wrong. The fundamentals need to be a part of any good curriculum. A student must know how to read, write, and use multiplication tables. While I didn’t want to hear it as a high school sophomore, I quickly learned I needed to know whether that $5 bill in my pocket was enough to buy the three seventy-nine-cent candy bars I had placed in my shopping cart! But it would have helped tremendously if our home economics class had made an actual trip to the grocery store with a fixed amount of money and an assignment to purchase a week’s worth of groceries from a meal plan. 

Numerous skills are taught much better through project-based learning techniques. Learning teamwork by organizing a team to solve a given problem, doing hands-on research to gather information, and understanding how to work out obstacles and come to a solution through actual committee work are not only effective ways to learn, but they can also be fun! The possibilities are endless when a skilled teacher is at the helm.

What is the advantage of project-based learning? Benjamin Franklin said it well, “Tell me and I forget, teach me, and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

I’ll be back with more thoughts about PBL in future blog posts.

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