Project-Based Learning: Why Should You Give It a Try?

Inquiry-based learning is a student-centered pedagogical approach offering students a rich and meaningful learning experience to foster cognitive engagement.

Are you looking for new approaches that would reach all learners in your class? Are your students rather unresponsive when they need to complete assignments in the activity book, and you have run out of ideas that would engage them? Inquiry-based learning might be the student-centered instructional approach that could offer your students a rich and meaningful learning experience.


Principles of Project-Based Learning


Project-Based Learning (PBL) is a student-driven investigation of a subject-matter that engages learners in completing complex activities over a long period to find solutions to an authentic problem.


When implementing experiential (hands-on) learning strategies, teachers need to adopt a new role and adapt their teaching practices. Educators need to design flexible projects instead of teacher-guided units incorporating lectures, drills, quizzes and end-of-unit exams. This means that students will also shape the content of the project, participate in the elaboration of assessment grids, and formulate inquiry lines that support them in finding the answer to the driving question.


Whereas the benefits of inquiry-based learning are numerous, teachers need to ensure if this student-centered approach suits their teaching philosophy.


The benefits of Project-Based Learning


Inquiry-based learning

  • grants students a voice,

  • integrates technology, so the learning activities are interesting to complete,

  • instigates students to establish connections with the real world,

  • allows learners to collaborate with peers and make important decisions together as a team,

  • triggers learners to develop meaningful understandings,

  • allows students to think, experiment, readjust, and take risks,

  • develops and reinforces problem-solving, critical thinking, communication, collaboration skills.


When using PBL, teachers

  • act as a facilitator and a guide,

  • formulate a driving question based on students' interest,

  • design a project that sustains student motivation throughout the learning process,

  • select the concepts needed to be taught and strategically integrate these in the project,

  • give a selection of relevant and useful sources of information,

  • ask questions that help learners to move in the right direction,

  • scaffold activities to offer greater support,

  • offer graphic organizers that aid students to take notes effectively,

  • give extensive feedback,

  • form teams that will work effectively.


Assessment and Project-Based Learning


When using PBL in the classroom, assessment takes place throughout the project. Educators use strategic observation and small-group conferencing to evaluate how much students know or have learned. Extensive feedback helps learners to reflect on the project and the progress they have made. Therefore, integrated assessment is an important part of the inquiry-based learning approach as it is an opportunity to situate students within their learning journey.


However, the focal point of an inquiry-based learning project is the end product or performance presented to an authentic audience that showcases what students have learned.


Reasons that might prevent teachers from profitably implementing Project-Based Learning in the classroom


  • Students lack preparation - absence of proper skills to complete high-level and complex activities; not knowing how to learn or how to collaborate with peers.

  • Certain teachers feel comfortable with using teaching practices permitting control over the content and outcome.

  • Students do not have access to computers and electronic databases containing relevant and reliable information.

  • The project may take longer than planned. Thus, the stress of getting students ready for testing and exams might put teachers in a position to simplify material or allow learners to skip certain steps that will decrease the projected benefits of PBL.


Final Thoughts


To conclude, implementing Project-Based Learning is not an easy task as it requires careful preparation, a great amount of flexibility, and a solid subject-matter knowledge to guide learners in their inquiry. However, once the risk taken to innovate our teaching practice for the 21st century, we might find ourselves surrounded by curious and actively engaged learners. Project-Based Learning not only improves the students' in-depth knowledge of a subject-matter, but it also enhances their collaboration, communication, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills.


If you are already using PBL, I would love to hear how it has changed your students' learning experience in the classroom.


References

Edutopia. Project-Based Learning. George Lucas Educational Foundation. https://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning Accessed 1 April. 2020

Blumenfeld, Phyllis C. et al. Motivating Project-Based Learning: Sustaining the Doing, Supporting the Learning. Education Psychologist, 26 (3-4), 369-398. 1991.



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