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Project or Project Based Learning?

Let’s play “Have You Ever?” Have you ever taken a shoebox and created a rainforest diorama with good old construction paper and playdough? Have you ever studied a foreign country and made a travel brochure that showcases your amazing artistic abilities and fun facts? Have you ever wandered through the forest to collect various leaves, placed those little babies in a scrapbook, and labeled them? Or if you were like my son, he wandered through Lowe’s snagged leaves from the trees in the gardening area, snapped pics of the labels on the trees, and grinned all the way home. I must tell you this was my husband’s idea and his way of helping with homework. I still think this is the most hilarious and ingenious thing those two did during his educational career, but I digress.

Please don’t misunderstand. I am not making fun of any of these experiences because I have either completed them, assigned them, or helped my own children with them. These are of course examples of projects typically assigned in classrooms each year. I definitely think there is a time and place for well thought out projects, but often people confuse projects with Project Based Learning.

Project Based Learning is how students learn the very standards/goals/objectives we are trying to accomplish. This is not something we stick at the end of a traditional unit of teaching or add after everything has been taught. Instead, students learn while they are working toward the challenge presented.

Looking back at our “Have You Ever” examples, those were assigned after all the information was shared and taught by the teacher. Those projects were to show the teacher if the student understood all that had been taught or enhance the learning, after the content was given through traditional methods such as reading, lecture, etc. Project Based Learning is different. Let’s say you ask your students what can be done with a plot of ground around the school to improve the lives of the students. Through much discussion, they decide they want to grow their own herbs to add some spice to school lunches. The class tackles the challenge of developing an herb garden. They don’t wait until they have read or heard everything about gardening, instead they research and work towards the goal, learning as they go. This is authentic and developmentally appropriate. This approach provides students with the information and skills when it is needed and also provides the WHY for learning!

I put together this simple chart below to compare the traditional project to the Project Based Learning approach. Please note that I think we need projects and PBL! Not everything needs to be full-blown Project Based Learning, but we do need to understand the differences to help us make more intentional choices in our instruction.

[table id=1 /]


** Want to know more about Project Based Learning? Join me in Austin, TX on April 13 for a day of PBL training and fun! There is still time to register!



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