I’ve been thinking a lot about project based learning, both how it can be applied in the public education setting and how I can use this type of method to organize learning experiences for the undergraduate Instructional Technology Collaborators that I will be supervising in the fall. Project based learning involves students applying knowledge to solve real problems. This type of educational experience often cuts across disciplinary lines and results in increased retention and comprehension.
The Challenges of Project Based Learning
Although there are several, and in my opinion invaluable, benefits to project based learning, there are also several difficulties that need to be overcome to integrate this type of learning in educational settings.
Cooperation is Key
In public education settings, project based learning requires a great deal of collaboration between content area teachers. For example, many of the scientific examples of project based learning that I have seen required the cooperation of science teachers who explained the conceptual aspects of the projects, math teachers who helped the students calculate and analyze results, and English teachers who provided students support as they prepared their results in written and oral forms.
The largest difficulty in implementing project based learning is the fact that to a certain degree the idea of curriculum must be ignored. Here I am talking about curriculum as a guideline that lists what students should learn and when they should learn it. This type of incremental measure of knowledge is often difficult to align with the interdisciplinary and often unpredictable nature of project based learning, and therefore many school administrators may be hesitant to implement this type of technique on a wide scale.
The Benefits of Project Based Learning
Although there are several challenges associated with project based learning, the benefits that accompany this instructional method outweigh the costs.
Research indicates that project based learning leads to a higher retention rate, which is especially important given recent data that paints a grim picture of current STEM performance in public schools. Educators associate this increase in retention with the higher level thinking processes that are inherent in the project based learning method.
Don’t Forget the Intangibles
Good educators know that all learning cannot be forced into convenient tests and measures, and project based learning provides several opportunities to develop some of the intangible skills that have gone un-emphasized since NCLB took hold in the early 2000’s. Project based learning allows students to collaborate with each other and develop lateral thinking skills. Furthermore, this type of educational experience is more accurately reflective of the working environments that these students will inherit.