I am a tremendous fan of project-based learning or PBL. If a fellow colleague mentions PBL, my eyes light up and I get oh-so-excited! I am like a teacher with a new pack of flair pens or like a student with a homework pass! That’s how excited I get. With that, let’s dive into the 5 advantages of project-based learning in the classroom.
Project-based learning is a student-centered approach to education. Students solve real-world problems or learn a specific topic through exploration, engaging in research, collaboration with students, and applying their newly-acquired knowledge to solve problems or to display in a meaningful project. The project is edited, receives feedback, revised, and finally presented. Project-based learning is less about the final product or destination, but more about the journey along the way. The learning is in the process with project-based learning.
The following picture displays a good summary of the sequence of project-based learning and the characteristics that make it up.
5 Advantages of Project-Based Learning
There are numerous benefits for students who tackle a project-based approach to learning.
1st Advantage of Project-Based Learning
When undertaking a project that relates to a real-world problem, students can see firsthand how what they’re learning relates to the environment we live in. Students can see WHY they’re learning this specific concept, because it does, in fact, circle back to an issue that affects the world and its inhabitants.
2nd Advantage of Project-Based Learning
Even if a project is not addressing a real-world problem, but is designed to thoroughly research and explore a subject, students can feel personally connected to their learning and become excited. This excitement creates student buy-in and they become an autonomous learner.
Project-based learning involves choice. This choice allows students to pick a topic or pick an avenue to display their knowledge that interests them. A typical book report can be presented in a variety of choices from creating a play’s script for those with writing interests, to creating a diorama for students that succeed in more hands-on activities. This choice gives students more educational motivation.
3rd Advantage of Project-Based Learning
Project-based learning doesn’t even feel like learning. Students engage in arts and crafts, research and exploration, experiments, etc. and thus connect personally to their education. Students become autonomous and self-directed learners. In a post-Covid educational culture, students can gain back that autonomy they feel they have lost, as so much choice was taken away from them in a variety of ways. This self-guided and exciting way of learning can spark joy into school again for many students.
4th Advantage of Project-Based Learning
Project-based learning can touch on a variety of standards and objectives in fun and interesting ways. Projects are meant to be academically rigorous, but designed in a more fun way to approach learning. With project-based learning, students enjoy developing skills like critical thinking and practical application.
5th Advantage of Project-Based Learning
PBL is student-centered. Once the project is explained, the teacher takes a step back. The student becomes the teacher within their own project. The teacher becomes the facilitator guiding the student in their learning. PBL pulls the teacher away from lecturing to the teacher being amongst the students as a educational guide to the exploration of their project.
As a teacher, it is wonderful. Educators can walk around the room, engaging in discussion, trouble-shooting, leading the students through various topics, and offering insight and guidance. Teachers can also take some time (gasp!) to sit down for a second and get some grading or lesson planning done as students work independently. It is a win/win situation. I have personally found that there is less behavioral issues during project-based learning. Going over a quick set of rules beforehand helps guide your students to their tasks for that class period. Because students are eager to explore their topic, their focus tends to be better and there is less classroom behavioral distractions.
5 Tips to Incorporate Project Based Learning
Project-based learning is simple. It is just a matter of rethinking and reworking the objectives and standards being learned.
Will your project be a summative assessment or part of the learning/unit?
If the project is a type of assessment, then rethink how you can evaluate those standards without a traditional test. For instance, instead of taking a test on the 8 parts of speech, have students design a menu for their own restaurant in which they color-code the parts of speech on their menus.
Instead of having students take a formal assessment on their novel, think of how you can have students show what they’ve read through an interesting project such as a Pizza Box Report or through writing an Amazon Book Review. If formal assessments are a requirement at your school, assigning a project for independent reading is a great idea.
As a middle school English teacher, I assigned an independent book project every quarter. Students could choose a book they’d like to read and then they’d choose from a list of options. Some options included baking a cake that centered around a theme of their novel, designing a puzzle book based on their book, or even creating paintings with captions that detailed the book’s events.
If you are teaching the standards and not assessing yet, then rethink how you can incorporate the standards/objectives into a project.
For instance, with every novel I teach, I focus on teaching characterization. Instead of doing the same song and dance with a worksheet, I turned it into a project. Grab your FREE copy below!
When teaching 6th-grade history, after reading the lesson on Ancient Egypt, we took our basic knowledge from the lesson and explored and completed research to make a life-size sarcophagus on butcher paper. Students investigated more into mummification and our learning was based on what students explored within their project.
For Thanksgiving, my 8th graders wrote and made a poster of a Thanksgiving Dinner Party that Anne Frank would throw to help learn perspective and review The Diary of Anne Frank. It was a fun and interesting task to do a couple of days before Thanksgiving break.
Whatever you may be teaching, with just a little “out of the box” thinking, your objectives can be turned into a project.
Don’t reinvent the wheel! When teaching 6th History, instead of utilizing the curriculum’s quizzes for every three lessons, we completed in-class project-based learning to review the concepts. I did make some of the projects, but most of them were creative ideas I found through Pinterest, Teachers Pay Teachers, or other teacher blogs, and I would edit them to fit my needs or add to them based on what we were learning.
A great project my 6th-grade history students loved while learning about Medieval Times involved creating a Knights Wanted poster that I found on Teachers Pay Teachers.
I love supporting other teachers myself and as someone with their own TpT business, I appreciate paying it forward.
Learn the characteristics of PBL so you can incorporate it fluidly into your lesson plans.
Project-based learning involves key characteristics that distinguish it from other pedagogy. Just like the picture at the beginning shows, it involves the following:
- Sustained Inquiry
- Student Choice
- Reflection, Critique & Revision
With every project, sometimes it is not possible to lead it back to a real-world problem. In some cases, the concept you’re learning will make it easy to do so. For instance, when teaching 7th Civics, we learned all about how the Green Movement impacted politics. Students researched and created a poster all about a specific Green Movement that interested them in hopes of inspiring their peers to take action to help their environment.
Other times, after reading a novel, it may be harder to circle it back to a real-world problem, so making sure it is a personally meaningful topic to the student helps with student motivation.
2. Sustained Inquiry
Sustained inquiry is the rigorous part of research, exploration, and application. It is the heart of the project as students are doing most of their learning in this phase.
3. Student Choice
Student choice is super important. It helps give students the autonomy to make the decisions as to what to explore further, and how to display their information. Student choice gives them the power to be the driver of their own education. Even if everyone is completing a similar final project, incorporate choice in any area you can within that project.
Collaboration is also a crucial part of PBL. If a project is independent, collaboration can still be achieved. Collaboration can be completed by working with the teacher. Perhaps working with other students in areas that they have questions about, or even gaining insight from a student that has a strength in a particular area they are exploring.
5. Reflection, Critique, and Revision
Reflection, Critique, and Revision is the real-world work of PBL. This is the phase in which adults even complete in many careers. Students reflect on their work, receive critiques or suggestions from their teacher and peers, and work on making their project even better, or deeper and thought-provoking.
Presentation is the final culmination of project-based learning. I find it is some students’ favorite part. They are able to share what they’ve been exploring and they are so proud of their final result. Their project may inspire others to learn a new topic or to see information in a different light.
Project-based learning does not have to be daunting at all. Once you incorporate it into your teaching style, it’s hard to want to teach in any other way. Many educators ask how I logistically complete project-based learning. Most of the time, projects are completed in the classroom over a course of a couple of days or more. If students are completing a project that isn’t an assessment, (since those take longer), an example of the schedule I typically do is as follows:
Monday: Background Lesson/Knowledge (Authenticity) and Review of Project’s Guidelines
Tuesday: Research (Sustained Inquiry)
Wednesday: Student Choice & Collaboration (Turn that research into the project!)
Thursday: Reflect, Critique, Revise
This would be a more simplistic project timeline. Some projects may take longer or less time, depending on how long your class periods are. Some teachers I’ve spoken to feel like PBL is just “fluff” and they do not have the time for this type of learning. The important part to remember is that PBL is not a “goofing-off” period. Students are doing rigorous learning during those days. It just may look a little different.
If you have not tried out project-based learning, you should take a dive into the deep end. Considering the 5 advantages of project-based learning, PBL’s student-centered approach to education increases student motivation, incentive, autonomy, creativity, and so much more. When students are excited about learning, it is always a victory.