We’ve written previously about Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, in which he describes the banking model of education that is all too prevalent in (21st century) schools:
“Education thus becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat. This is the ‘banking’ concept of education, in which the scope of action allowed to the students extends only so far as receiving, filing, and storing the deposits. They do, it is true, have the opportunity to become collectors or cataloguers of the things they store. But in the last analysis, it is the people themselves who are filed away through the lack of creativity, transformation, and knowledge in this (at best) misguided system. For apart from inquiry, apart from the praxis, individuals cannot be truly human. Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.” (72).
Rather than viewing students as empty vessels in need of academic ‘deposits’ that are gatekept by teachers following a ‘sage on the stage’ approach, PBL seeks to disrupt traditional, lecture-driven methods by situating students at the center of a relevant problem or issue, and granting them more agency in developing, testing, and revising solutions.
The great news? PBL is consistently proving to be effective in classrooms of all ages. U.S. News recently shared an article mentioning studies that have yielded positive outcomes at the college/university, high school, and elementary school levels — specifically, students in classes taught with a PBL approach are out-performing their peers on standardized tests. These gains have been consistent across racial and socioeconomic groups.
PBL can be implemented with in-person, hybrid, and remote learning; at any grade level; and, within any content area. We realize that many teachers are curious about PBL, but unsure of where to start. With that in mind, we’ve curated our most popular articles on project-based learning for teachers at all levels of experience and implementation. From teachers who are brand new to PBL, to those who are looking to amplify the outcomes of existing units, as well as successful exemplars from classrooms around the country, we hope that you are able to find at least several resources to help you better engage your students and improve your teaching by centering project-based learning at the core of your curriculum.
As always, we would love to hear of any positive examples you’ve used in your classes that you don’t see featured on this list.
“From a teacher’s perspective, Project-Based Learning is a method of structuring curriculum around projects to promote learning of prioritized academic content. These projects highlight the process of learning itself by offering authentic, inquiry-based activities for learners to access content, share ideas, and revisit their own thinking.”
“Below, we’ve shared dozens of ideas for projects, and we’re going to constantly update the list with new ideas, suggestions from our community, resources, etc. In that way, this page can become a kind of guide for project-based learning in your classroom. The focus will be on the ideas for the projects themselves but we’ll also include apps, tools, and other pedagogical bits and pieces you’ll need to effectively realize this approach in your classroom.”
“What actually makes each project idea actually an example of project-based learning depends on how the project is mapped out and planned, what learning is assessed and how, the degree of agency and voice the student is allowed, the period of time over which the ‘project’ is ‘completed,’ and so on. There is, obviously, a lot to consider. With that mind, here are 20 examples of project-based learning in a modern world with resources and technology available in most communities.”
“I wish geometry was taught in this way when I was in school. For so many students, it’s difficult to make a real-life connection between math and their everyday lives. By adopting a Project-Based Learning (PBL) approach, students learn that geometry is not only theoretical, but practical and necessary. Students will move beyond a basic understanding of concepts to an enjoyment of discovery.”
“There is a difference between projects and project-based learning, primarily that Project-Based Learning is about the process, and projects are about the product that comes at the end. Project-Based Learning often requires students not simply to collect resources, organize work, and manage long-term activities, but also to collaborate, design, revise, and share their ideas and experiences with authentic audiences and supportive peer groups. This can come in many shapes and sizes, so technically there isn’t a certain ‘number’ of types of PBL. However, let’s take a quick look at a few possible examples–mainly to clarify the ability of Project-Based Learning to accommodate other models and approaches inside and outside of the classroom.”
“The iPad is not magic, and as many educators have found integrating them meaningfully is by no means a just-add-water proposition. The same applies to Project-Based Learning. Project-Based Learning is a method of giving learners access to curriculum in authentic ways that promote collaboration, design, imagination, and innovation while also allowing for more natural integration of digital and social media. Below we’ve offered 23 ways to use the iPad in PBL.”
“My students have completed many projects over the years, and I honestly thought they were doing ‘PBL,’ but after the summer I finally realized that it was not authentic PBL. I was simply having students learn by completing projects. Coming to this realization allowed me to find resources to learn how to implement authentic PBL into my classroom. If you are feeling the same as I did, don’t worry. There are the resources, tools, and shifts in thinking that can help you on your way.”
Using the QFT to Drive Inquiry in Project-Based Learning
“Ultimately, the QFT is a multi-faceted tool and the beauty of it is in its simplicity. It helps students have more of a voice and helps teachers shift from being the center of attention and thinking to to the facilitator creating scenarios allowing for great questions that effective PBL demands. It also helps create a mindset and culture where students become resourceful and empowered by their inquiry because it’s just that, their inquiry. As teachers we need to ask great questions but we also need students to ask great questions.”
“Rather than reciting facts and hoping some of them stick, teachers give students the resources they need to research concepts and apply them in a practical form. Mistakes are allowed and even expected in the course of meaningful learning. The result: Students become active rather than passive learners and build important workplace skills. Of course, all of this requires a great deal of planning, a healthy dose of flexibility and an environment that supports collaboration. Here are four essential elements of a successful PBL classroom.”
“Here, we take a look at challenge-based learning–the process of anchoring the learning process through problems–usually local, authentic, and personal to the student. This is a kind of place-based education that takes a project-based approach that begins and ends with the student and their respective and self-examined citizenship. We’ve divided the essential questions to help students brainstorm into four categories: connect & analyze, research & contextualize, imagine & design, and act & socialize.
“As the name implies, project-based learning is simply learning through projects. What is being learned and how that learning is being measured isn’t strictly dictated by the project and any products or artifacts within that project. Rather, the reverse should be true: the desired learning objectives should help dictate the products and artifacts within the project. For example, instead of wanting students to plan a garden as the core of the project, then deciding which learning objectives and academic standards fit that idea, planning backward–looking first at the learning objectives and academic standards, then brainstorm project ideas and components of that project (audience, purpose, duration, etc.) This can be useful in making sure that in the course of completing the project, they are actually learning what you want them to learn. That is, you can help align the work of the project with the desired learning outcomes and objectives.”
“Project-based learning is based on the idea that students learn best by tackling and solving real world problems. Students are much more engaged with the subject matter and look to the teacher as more of a coach who guides them through their own reflections and ideas. Project-based learning often involves students working in pairs or groups, thus facilitating a deeper understanding of cooperation and communication in solving problems. Ready to try project-based learning in your classroom? These tried-and-true resources are sure to get you on the right track.”
“It’s beyond time for U.S. schools engaged in PBL to shift their emphasis. Rather than seeing PBL as a ‘strategy’ to meet accountability goals, educators should view PBL as a philosophical north star to guide us into the future, and to enlarge the frame for PBL by embracing key principles that will contribute to a global standard for PBL. In fact, for the health of U.S. education, as well as other systems, it’s time to rise higher, and in these dangerous, chaotic times, to define a future-version of inquiry-oriented PBL that needs to be implemented right now. How can U.S.-based PBL educators contribute to the global conversation? Here are eight ideas, in rough sequence.”
How Project-Based Learning Can Nurture Student Autonomy
“Other teachers (and critics of PBL) are uncomfortable with ceding ‘control’ for fear their classrooms will become something like what I jokingly call ‘Free Range Chicken.’ In this scenario, students might very well be metaphorically wandering about with no real guidance on their academic and cognitive path. That’s only not effective PBL, that’s not good teaching. We use the image in this article to help illustrate that the amount of autonomy we want to provide is dependent upon the complexity of the task. If we want to more loosely manage students then the task should be less complex and conversely, if the task is more complex we’ll need to more tightly manage them.”
“While PBL is a different approach to learning, it’s not hugely different from traditional learning from a broad enough perspective. The learning process is simply personalized in a progressive PBL environment by students asking important questions, and making changes to products and ideas based on individual and collective response to those questions. In PBL, the projects only serve as an infrastructure to allow users to play, experiment, use simulations, address authentic issues, and work with relevant peers and community members in pursuit of knowledge.”
“Project-Based Learning is the anchoring of student-driven learning through the design, development, and publication authentic projects, products, and related learning outcomes. It is a forward-way of thinking about how you can plan learning experiences for students while simultaneously centering them in the learning process itself. This graphic takes a look at a seven-phase model for designing project-based learning units, which parallel much of what is accepted as ‘best practice’ for learning design.”
25 Questions to Guide Teaching with Project-Based Learning
“We’ve been thinking of the kinds of questions we consider when planning a project–or planning a unit when students plan a project on their own. Here is a ‘primary’ set for the first dozen, and then add a secondary set you can take a gander at, more or less organized into a kind of spectrum, from the simplest questions to consider, to the most complex. We focused more on creating compelling and student-centered projects, rather than creating a list of questions to use as a checklist for pure academic planning.”
“For decades, teachers have sought to make student learning “authentic” by looking to the “real world”–the challenges, technology, and communities that students care about and connect with daily. You’ve probably been encouraged in the past to design work that “leaves the classroom.” Reach beyond the school walls. The question is, how? The function of this image is to act as a kind of brainstorm–to help you get your own creative juices going to decide what’s most important when designing an authentic project-based learning unit–audiences, technology, habits, purposes, and so on.”
“Good facilitators/teachers plan good questions to ask learners, great ones plan for scenarios from which great questions grow from everyone. Throughout a project, we want to see opportunities and the need for students and teachers to ask questions both planned and organically. Starting with an open-ended Driving Question aligned with the desired thinking and learning, students might have questions for an outside expert, questions for fellow students around a text or other resources, questions to help lead the thinking of others, or just clarifying questions. Moving from a classroom where answers are the norm, rich inquiry yields profound thinking and creativity as one idea builds upon another.”
“We tend to think of project-based learning as focused on research, planning problem-solving, authenticity, and inquiry. Further, collaboration, resourcefulness, and networking matter too–dozens of characteristics ‘fit’ into project-based learning. Its popularity comes from, among other characteristics, its general flexibility as a curriculum framework. You can do, teach, assess, and connect almost anything within the context of a well-designed project. But what if we had to settle on a handful (or two) of itemized characteristics for modern, connected, possibly place-based, and often digital project-based learning? The following, then, might be useful.”