As mentioned in my blog from October 19, 2011 regarding overcoming boredom and challenging assumptions, Project-Based Learning (PBL) is one approach with positive results in engaging students in the learning process, increasing motivation and improving performance in school. For students in such programs, going to school means working on real world problems, such as building and racing electric cars, snorkeling to survey coral reefs or advancing research on single-celled organisms. The video above provides a glimpse of Project-Based Learning in action.
As illustrated in the video, the PBL methodology can be utilized at different levels, from primary through secondary education. Not only do students become more involved in the learning process through PBL, they also develop skills and apply concepts from different subjects strengthening their relevance in the students’ reality. Through projects, students work collaboratively, use problem-solving skills, conduct research and learn how to present and communicate their results. These are critical life skills considered necessary for the labor market and success in the 21st Century, according to the Assessment and Teaching of 21st Century Skills global partnership. In an IDB study conducted in Chile and Argentina in 2010, employers emphasized the need for prospective employees to strengthen these life skills.
There are, however, many concerns revolving around the use of PBL in the classroom. Will students do well on standardized tests? Is more time required to develop and work on projects? Are students ready for this type of collaboration? Will teachers lose control of their classroom?
Using inquiry based learning or project based learning does require more planning and organization on the part of the teachers. It requires a shift in the teacher perspective, from that of leader to mentor or facilitator. Patience and time are also needed for students to learn how to collaborate effectively, which is in itself a valuable life skill. Nevertheless, a number of studies on the effectiveness of PBL have shown that students learning through this methodology performed better academically and in mastering 21st century skills (Buck Institute for Education (BIE)) compared to those in the comparison groups. When done properly, project-based learning can overcome boredom and lead to positive learning outcomes of students. BIE and Edutopia provide valuable resources to support teachers implementing PBL.
Project-Based Learning is only one of several approaches to engage youth in the learning process. For example, below is a video of a high performing school in a vulnerable community in Chile that does not necessarily use PBL; rather, the school utilizes a flexible approach that progresses at each student’s pace, strengthens the sense of responsibility and organizational skills of students, and involves the parents and the community in the learning process.
What could be other models to explore?