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What is Project-Based Learning? How Can I Incorporate PBL Into My Classroom?

October 24, 2022

By: Kendall Hunt RPD with contributions from the writing team of By Design Science grades 1-8

We love this time of year! The weather is starting to change and there is no better time than now to introduce Project-Based Learning (PBL) into your classroom. PBL is the act of learning through identifying a real-world problem and developing a corresponding solution. Students show what they learn as they move through a new and engaging project from year to year.

A more complete explanation of PBL is that it is an ongoing act of learning about different subjects simultaneously. This is achieved by guiding students to identify, through research, a real-world problem (local to global); develop a solution using evidence to support the claim; and present the solution to others in the classroom.

The ByDesign Science program starts each unit of study with an Open Inquiry activity that introduces a project that a student will work on throughout the unit of study. Also included is an Engineering Practice activity (at the end of each unit) for each grade level to further help solidify student understanding.

Both activities can be developed into PBL activities that correlate directly to the topics presented in each grade level unit. In addition to these activities, you can investigate the many online resources that provide ideas for projects that you can incorporate into your school year.

Project-based learning is learning through immersion. Students show what they learn as they develop their projects, interact with the lessons, collaborate with other students, and assess themselves and each other. They don't just take a test or produce a product at the end to show that they’re learning, PBL places a specific emphasis on the scientific process, measuring the progress and assessing the outcome of each student.

Students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.

Four reasons why this type of learning is ideal for your classroom:

Shake up the schedule

Students won’t waste mental energy on something they assume can’t teach them anything new. Prove them wrong by ditching the lecture on climate control or endangered species and dividing them into teams to create a “save the bees” social media campaign. Not only will they enjoy using the tech they love, but they’ll practice skills in persuasive communication, writing, and research.   

Use what you know

After a few weeks spent working with your students, you know their interests and learning styles. Now you can create a project that offers students the best chance of success because you can choose topics that best suit your classroom and students. In addition, PBL allows you to “use what you know” in terms of content as well.

At your own pace

The end of the quarter can wreak havoc on schedules. So standardized testing can eat up class time, as can assemblies, field trips, and performances. With PBL, your students can work on the project in small increments as time permits, and requirements can be easily modified to fit within any schedule.

Ease of grading

Don’t feel that you will get knee-deep in papers to grade, PBL is the ideal solution, thanks to its emphasis on student critique and revision. Students give and receive feedback and they use that feedback to reflect on quality of their project. Grading a PBL assignment also asks students to reflect on their learning and “the effectiveness of their inquiry.” Not only does this promote metacognition by forcing students to ponder their learning, but they’re also more likely to be engaged in a project where they can take part in the assessment process. Plus, this means fewer grade-heavy tests for you . . . a win-win situation!

Project-based learning does not have to start out with some elaborate project. Keep it simple. Just Start!