What is project-based learning (PBL) and what does a project look like? There really isn’t a simple answer to that question because projects can be anything after all and the process is different for everyone.

Project based learning can be done individually or in groups and offers students authentic learning opportunities, autonomy, mastery and purpose. Projects ideas are generated through student influenced inquiry, aligned with the state standards and are collaborations with one’s advisor. One of the key features of our PBL system is guiding students through the project process during their time in the Headwaters program.

Northwest Passage High School Project-Based Learning Work Flow:

Project-Based Learning

Project-Based Learning versus traditional teaching?

Imagine a classroom where students do not merely learn academic subjects but are taught in a way that makes them apply what they learn with real world scenarios. Enter project-based learning teaching methods. Students not only develop deeper knowledge of subject matter but also gain important insight on its applications in real life. A form of teaching that let students connect to the real world not just through books.

Let’s face it, traditional teaching and educational methods has not always been an effective means of reaching students. This does not mean that traditional methods are a failure. It’s just that the conventional way of teaching does not give students a reason to remember what they learn or how to apply them. Traditional teaching is just not part of our core philosophy.

How many of you have gone through books and subjects back in high school and wondered is there anything here worth remembering that I can apply in real life?  Traditional learning methods teach students academic concepts as they are intended but fail to gain empathy as to why the students need to learn all this stuff in the first place.

Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning is a dynamic approach to teaching in the high school classroom wherein students are encouraged to actively explore real-world scenarios and challenges and develop a deeper knowledge of the subject matter. PBL helps students to learn and accept challenges in the real world by emulating what  professionals encounter on a daily basis.

The seven essentials to PBL

  • Provides emphasis on the student to focus on the big open-ended question, challenge or concept to study and solve
  • Focuses on what students really need to know from an academic standpoint so they can understand the problem and solve it
  • Focus on letting students ask questions rather than simply feeding them the answers
  • Emphasizes on the development of vital 21stcentury skills like creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking just to name a few
  • Develops student choice into the process
  • Requires students to present their research process, methods, problems encountered and results

How Project-based Learning can Benefit your Students

Deeper Engagement and Long Term Retention

In a traditional setup the focus is mostly on short-term memorization methods where students learn the concept, take a test, pass and most likely forget that he even studied the subject in the first place. In project-based learning, the focus is creating an environment for students to engage deeper into the subject matter with targeted content with the objective of bringing about a long-term retention. This approach helps encourage better student perceptions about education due to its inherent characteristic of keeping them engaged.  The PBL structure is based on developing intrinsic motivation due in part largely to its focus on student learning around a central question and a momentous outcome.

According to Daniel Pink, author of the influential book Drive, people are generally inspired by three things – autonomy, mastery and purpose. Terms such as grit and rigor become embedded attitudes when students dive into stuff they believe has meaningful outcomes. Project based learning gives students the meat they can sink their teeth into.

A Mastery of Real World Skill Sets

Due to project-based learning’s focus on 21stcentury skills, students also develop and master technology abilities that they can use and become an expert at when they become professionals in the future. Project-based learning is the perfect approach for helping students develop not just problem-solving skills that are an absolute necessity in the 21stcentury workplace but crucial communication and collaborative skills needed to successfully tackle a problem with others, not just themselves alone.  The collaborative nature of projects in PBL reinforces the social-emotional learning principles being taught in progressive academic institutions the world over.

Addresses All Student Needs

Due to its emphasis on enhancing 21stcentury skill sets, a technology based PBL improves students’ tech abilities and addresses the entire strata of student needs and learning styles as it involves an approach that is collaborative, interdisciplinary,  focused on inquiry, self-directed and motivates students to their full potential.

Project-based learning offers a radical departure from what we are used to in the classroom. It requires teachers to coach more and instruct less and to accept inter-disciplinary learning as opposed to remaining isolated with single-subject knowledge and to become more comfortable with uncertainty & discovery in the learning process. It is the future of modern education that empowers students and makes them more suited to face the challenges of real life.