Project-Based Learning (PBL)

One very holistic approach that has emerged to put constructivism into action is Project-Based Learning (PBL) which also infuses technology into learning activities in a very natural way.  Experts in this field aim to cultivate the life of the child’s mind in a way that develops not only cognitive processes but also emotional, aesthetic and spiritual contexts, as well as social relationships (Katz, 2000).

PBL centres around a structure of inquiry that begins with the students’ interests, in collaboration with the teacher.  Children make predictions, and investigate through observation, interviews, fieldwork and gathering information from a variety of sources.  In the process of gathering information, findings are recorded and shared in an collaborative (usually public) way, with all students accepting responsibility for their part in the discovery process.  To me, PBL exemplifies a holistic, bricolage approach since it involves knowing well your students and their community and using a wide variety of available resources (people, technology, knowledge, observations) to explore personally relevant topics deeply.  The opportunity to capitalize on multiple intelligences to create diverse working groups and alternate demonstrations of learning is prevalent.

Characteristics of PBL approaches:

  • project inquiry comes from the personally relevant questions that children ask about the world around them (teachers help to develop ‘fat’ or deeper questions)
  • process (rather than content), is emphasized and the challenge of teaching is to help students learn how to learn rather than to simply impart information
  • the learner is the focus but the centrality of the teacher to guide the inquiry is critical
  • large blocks of time and extended study of topics is usually required to promote depth, meaningful understanding and reflection
  • the teacher’s role is one of co-learner, guiding and promoting growth and development
  • authentic experiences are encouraged to increase motivation and personal relevance
  • learner-centred, intrinsically motivating
  • collaborative
  • challenging
  • demonstrations of learning using a variety of techniques are promoted (posters, drama, models, simulations, multi-media presentations, text, music)

What is PBL?

Project-Based Learning is an educational approach that falls under the umbrella of inquiry learning and is described in many different ways. Here are some references:

1) Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real World Projects in the Digital Age by Susie Boss and Jane Krauss (ISTE, 2007)

  • Projects form the centerpiece of the curriculum – they are not an add-on or extra at the end of a “real” unit.
  • Students engage in real-world activities and practice the strategies of authentic disciplines.
  • Students work collaboratively to solve problems that matter to them.
  • Technology is integrated as a tool for discovery, collaboration, and communication, taking learners places they couldn’t otherwise go and helping teachers achieve essential learning goals in new ways.

2) The Buck Institute Project-based learning:

  • focuses on the central concepts and principles of a discipline
  • involves students in problem-solving investigations and other meaningful tasks
  • allows students to work autonomously to construct their own knowledge, and
  • culminates in realistic products

3) Powerful Learning: What we know about teaching for understanding by Linda Darling-Hammond (Jossey-Bass, 2008) PBL involves completing tasks that typically result in a realistic product, event, or presentation to an audience.

They are:

  • central to the curriculum
  • organized around driving questions that lead students to encounter central concepts or principles of a discipline
  • focused on a constructive investigation that involves inquiry and knowledge building
  • student-driven, in that students are responsible for making choices and for designing and managing their work
  • authentic, by posing problems that occur in the real world and that people care about

4) George Lucas Educational Foundation (Edutopia) Project-based learning:

  • is curriculum fueled and standards based
  • asks a question or poses a problem that each student can answer
  • asks students to investigate issues and topics addressing real-world problems while integrating subjects across the curriculum
  • is a method that fosters abstract, intellectual tasks to explore complex issues.

Finding and Joining  Projects – Choose any of the sites below to find projects around the world

Inquiring minds want to know from Brenda Sherry


Some resources from my blog posts:

Learn More About PBL: An excellent comprehensive resource for educators demonstrates best practice with PBL and technology.  The site includes videos with experts, stories of classroom successes with technology and downloadable resources to help get you started with PBL. Sylvia Chard and Lilian Katz, two Canadian educators, pioneered the Project Approach! The purpose of this site is to provide an overview of the project approach and how it relates to learning as well as providing online courses, project ideas, resources and links to other project sites. David Moursund is a leading educator in ICT enhanced Project-Based Learning and his website provides lots of background information, mini-courses and links to books, articles and presentations. The Buck Institute of Education provides instructional resources about how to get started in your classroom with PBL and provides a teacher handbook that outlines the process plus assessment techniques and classroom management strategies.

Capra, S., and Ryan, J. eds. (2002) Problems are the Solution: Keys to Lifelong Learning.  Capra Ryan and Associates, Brisbane, Australia.

Clack, Edward T., (2001) Designing and Implementing an Integrated Curriculum.  Holistic Education Press: Brandon, Vermont.

Katz, L., and Chard, (2000) Engaging Children’s Minds: The Project Approach. 2nd Edition. Ablex.

McGrath, D. (2003, February). Artifacts and understanding. Learning & Leading with Technology, 30(5), 22-24ff.

McGrath, D. (2002-03, December/January). Launching a PBL project. Learning & Leading with Technology, 30(4), 36-39.