Each task contains between three and six products that allow students to demonstrate their understanding of content, concepts, and skills. The learning experience focuses on student-centered inquiry and group learning, with the teacher acting as a facilitator.
For teachers who have not experienced PBL, the shift can create uncertainty in the classroom, especially for those who feel the need to give students “soapbox” speeches and lectures. With PBL, teachers become more of a classroom guide who facilitates learning and allows students to discover answers on their own.
Some teachers hesitate to do this. They want to jump in and give the answers rather than allowing students to solve problems and learn from mistakes. In reviewing the comments collected during the study, it became increasingly apparent that as teachers’ comfort levels with PBL grew, so too did their perceptions of the methodology’s overall effectiveness in engaging students.
Reflecting on the early phases of implementation, teachers collectively suggested that being able to see the process of PBL in action would have helped them through the early phases of the initiative. “Being able to see a PBL class prior to implementation may have lessened the sense of ambiguity we experienced,” said one educator.
This new research should encourage teachers to try PBL, because the results show that it works. Findings consistently indicated that project-based learning enhances student performance, motivation, student engagement, teacher/student interaction and the learning of 21st-century skills such as collaboration.
A fifth-grade teacher participating in the study said of students: “From the beginning of their school experience, everything was fed to them. Getting them to think in the beginning on their own, outside of the box, was very hard. They were not used to doing this. They were used to someone giving them the solution. By the end of the year they were actually saying here is what it is, they were able to think about the problems and come up with solutions.”
PBL leads to increased student engagement
According to qualitative data collected during the research period, teachers found students to be more engaged and motivated when using the PBL methodology. When students engage in PBL, they’re naturally more motivated to learn because they are able to correlate lessons to their everyday life. Rather than learning material for a test and forgetting much of it after the assessment is done, students engaged in the process of investigating problems and collaborating with their peers must consider ultimately how best to effectively communicate their findings. Throughout the process students have quite a bit of autonomy in designing and organizing their work. Learning responsibility, independence, and discipline are three outcomes of PBL.
By the end of the school year, teachers reported that the “Kids [got] extremely excited about the videos and the projects and asked repeatedly if they were going to do Defined STEM today?”
Educators reported that the students liked working together and doing the research. Having videos to watch gave them an idea of what to do, showed how the lessons relate to careers, and gave them some context. With each task, students took on more responsibility, asked fewer questions and were eager to jump in and get started on their own.
Both the quantitative and qualitative findings of this study are consistent with a growing body of research suggesting that project-based learning provides a deep, meaningful understanding of content by engaging students in a highly motivating learning environment. Students using PBL perform better on both standardized assessments and project tests than students in traditional direct-instruction programs, and they learn essential life skills such as analytical thinking.
In the future, children will enter a workforce in which they will be judged on their performance. They will be evaluated not only on their outcomes, but also on their collaboration, negotiating, planning, and organizational skills. By implementing PBL, we are preparing our students to meet their futures with a repertoire of skills they can use to succeed.
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