Author: Tom Vander Ark and Bonnie Lathram

Is it a Project or an Activity? Project-Based Learning and its Cousins

July 18, 2016 by

PBL1This post originally appeared at Getting Smart on June 24, 2016. 

A project is a multistep activity undertaken by an individual or group to achieve a particular aim. With that broad definition there’s a lot of project-based learning happening in schools these days. Some is better than others and there are a lot of variations: some thin, some deep; some teacher-led, some student-driven; some with clear deliverables, and some very open-ended.

In an effort to help educators select a strategy appropriate for intended outcomes, this post is an attempt at providing a framework for variations on project-based learning (PBL) and part of our project-based world campaign.

Gold Standard PBL

Buck Institute for Education (BIE) defines project-based learning as “a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem or challenge.” Their Gold Standard PBL Essential Project Design Elements include:

  • Key Knowledge, Understanding and Success Skills. The project is focused on student learning goals, including standards-based content and skills such as critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration and self-management.
  • Challenging Problem or Question. The project is framed by a meaningful problem to solve or a question to answer, at the appropriate level of challenge.
  • Sustained Inquiry. Students engage in a rigorous, extended process of asking questions, finding resources and applying information.
  • Authenticity. The project features real-world context, tasks and tools, quality standards or impact. Or it speaks to students’ personal concerns, interests and issues in their lives.
  • Student Voice & Choice. Students make some decisions about the project, including how they work and what they create.
  • Reflection. Students and teachers reflect on learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, the quality of student work, obstacles and how to overcome them.
  • Critique & Revision. Students give, receive and use feedback to improve their process and products.
  • Public Product. Students make their project work public by explaining, displaying and/or presenting it to people beyond the classroom.

We think that is a good and useful set of design principles. Most of it applies not only to project-based learning but also to a group of related instructional strategies. We see seven key dimensions (design variables) for projects and related learning activities: (more…)

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