PBL…Great ideas popping up everywhere!

Project based learning (PBL) is defined by Wikipedia as:

A student-centered pedagogy that involves a dynamic classroom approach in which students acquire a deeper knowledge through active exploration of real-world challenges and problems.Students learn about a subject by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, challenge, or problem.

Students have direct involvement in what they learn and are often more engaged in their learning through PBL.  “Learning by doing,” was an idea that John Dewey himself discussed over a hundred years ago, so the idea of PBL is nothing new. Research even suggest the benefits of PBL for learners;

Research shows that learners not only respond by feeding back information, but they also actively use what they know to explore, negotiate, interpret, and create. They construct solutions, thus shifting the emphasis toward the process of learning. Introduction to Project Based Learning

Even with all this research, years understanding and knowing that learners benefit from PBL, hundreds of schools are still using testing, route learning and direct instruction on a daily basis. I recently watched the movie Most Likely to Succeed, discussing this very topic of innovative schools that use PBL as their main source versus the standard form of education.

After watching the movie, and with all of this week’s readings,  I just could not understand why education is so slow to change when PBL seems so obviously successful. But as I read what Dr. Seymour Papert wrote in his study on PBL I began to realize why the more schools do not use PBL more. First of all, Dr. Papert said, “first thing you have to do is to give up the idea of curriculum. Curriculum meaning you have to learn this on a given day. Replace it by a system where you learn this where you need it” (Seymour Papert: Project Based Learning).  


Giving up curriculum is a scary concept for policy makers, superintendents and even for educators, many who may be too nervous of what unknowns can happen. Suzie Boss states is best in her article, Perfecting with Practice: Project-Based Teaching




In project learning (PL), plans that look spectacular on paper can go awry when students enter the picture. During the implementation phase, students may decide to head in directions their teacher never anticipated. Tensions can build if teams don’t understand what it means to collaborate or share responsibility for project success. Creative problem solving can start to feel like classroom chaos. This is when the art of project-based teaching makes all the difference.

Many new teachers, and some veteran teachers who are comfortable with what they have been doing for years are fearful of chaos and not knowing what may happen.  I myself, who began teaching (and still do teach many subject areas) with curriculum become a little nervous about the idea of giving up curriculum.

Recently, I have had a little more freedom to dabble in PBL (yet still with standards and main objectives) and it was incredible to see what even five year olds were capable of. Our recent science unit was a unit about movement, pushing and pulling. We allowed the children opportunities to experiment with different things that move and how they move while discussing the force needed to push or pull the items in different directions. It was very interesting looking at all the different types of ramps and tools the children used to see how they move!  They came up with far more than I had even thought about. As their final assessment, the children had to make a toy that can be pushed or pulled and share it with the younger students. It was a log of fun to see how creative everyone was and how well they presented their toys for the younger students to play with.

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I read the final project ideas and am still struggling what I may do. We have a unit coming up titled “stories my grandparent’s tell” to discuss past and present as well as an introduction to needs and wants. I am trying to think of a way to make it more project based (interviewing grandparents, researching the past, etc.) I will have to continue to think about that more in order to make the unit more project based and not so teacher directed.

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