Last weekend I participated in the Kentucky Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts (KCTE/LA) Conference. It was a very full weekend as I am on the KCTE/LA Board, the Kentucky Writing Project always schedules a director’s meeting, and I signed up to present twice, but it was a good busy. I got to meet some amazing new teachers, reconnect with some of my favorites, and learn some new things. That is always a win. I learned some new moves from the redoubtable Barry Lane (ideas I’ve already implemented) but the session that sticks with me the most and is shaping the assignment I’m currently designing was Carol Ruppel’s session on the Power of Project-Based Learning (PBL).
PBL supports the sort of deep thinking and reflection-based learning that I want to see from my students. Plus, it is just more fun for me and my students. But Carol’s session also reminded me how many teachers don’t really understand PBL and its benefits. They assume that simply assigning “projects” make its PBL. When in fact there is a distinct difference between projects and project-based learning. Projects are separate from instruction and learning. Projects are an end result usually used to demonstrate learning. In project-based learning (PBL) the project is the learning – and the teaching and learning take place through the project. Projects are a fine way to demonstrate learning but project-based learning is a tremendous way to engage and educate.
PBL is not new. It has been around since the times of the ancient philosophers with proponents including Confucius (“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”), Aristotle (“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.”), and Socrates (“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”). In today’s classrooms we see many interpretations of this concept with ideas such as service learning, passion projects, and genius hour.
PBL is more than problem solving, it is an inquiry process during which students ask a question and then seek an answer under the guidance (but not leadership) of their instructor which makes it student driven. Instructors are guides and resources to help students when they need it, but the projects are created and implemented by students. Students learn by doing as well as by discovery. I have used PBL in humanities, education, and professional writing classes, but PBL crosses the curriculum and can be used in any discipline and at any level of education. PBL challenges students to not only learn but also to apply their new knowledge, according to project-based learning research.
I’ve written about PBL before (see “Consume, Curate, Create”), but next week I want to share some examples about how PBL works in the classroom. I’ll share my plan for my First Year Seminar, From the Walking Dead to Superheroes, and hopefully from some other PBL teachers as well (Send me a link if you have a great example!). In the meantime, learn more about PBL by investigating resources such as Edutopia’s Project-Based Learning Guide and the Buck Institute’s Project-Based Learning Resources. I love TeachThought’s 7 Essential Ingredients of Project-Based Learning and 4Teachers.org also offers some great project-based learning resources. You can find other educators using PBL in their classrooms on Twitter using the #PBL hashtag. Chances are good you can find another teacher at your level and in your content area.