Experiential learning resources for the innovative educator
What is project-based learning anyway?
This post was published when I first started my blog about one year ago. This is an updated version. I will be updating other earlier posts on project-based learning throughout June. Stay-tuned.
My experience and philosophy of teaching is all about project-based learning (PBL). I have been a project-based teacher for 11 years. I talk a lot about PBL right here on my blog and my various social media pages. Almost all of my TpT resources are PBL in nature. I've made the assumption that every reader knows what it is.
Since starting this blog a little less than one year ago, I have discovered that there are a few misconceptions around project-based learning that I hope to clarify in this post. The most common is that it's the same as assigning a project. Projects and project-based learning are very different things. One could easily do a project without sticking to the principles of project-based learning. The specific components that make project-based learning what it is, which I will talk about in a later post, make for a much deeper learning experience than simply slapping some information on a poster board and presenting it to the class.
Another misconception is that you need to be a project-based teacher to implement PBL in your curriculum. Again, not true. It can be intimidating for beginners, but a couple projects in and you'll be a pro. It can also be incorporated into ANY learning environment - home, traditional classroom, an alternative education environment, and even on the road for worldschoolers.
So what is project-based learning then?
In short, PBL is learning through projects that are innovative, relevant, and are shared with an authentic audience. Students gather information on a topic or problem through questioning, learning activities, and community collaboration. They share their new skills and knowledge beyond classroom walls in such a way that their final product and presentation make an impact on the local and/or global community.
I came across a children's book about sea turtles at the library, and grabbed it for my kids. By the second page I discovered that the book is a beautiful illustration of project-based learning at it's finest. Check it out...
Follow the Moon Home by Deborah Hopkinson and Phillipe Cousteau Jr.
Note: I mention "Classroom Unbound" in this video. That was the name of my blog when I first started. I changed it to Experiential Learning Depot a few months ago to streamline my brand. So to clarify, "Classroom Unbound" is the same as "Experiential Learning Depot".
This book exemplifies project-based learning principles. Yes, this is just a book. It's not even based on a true story as far as I know. But it's not unrealistic. This is what project-based learning is, and it's taking the world by storm. Schools and teachers everywhere are taking note and implementing PBL in classes of all ages, backgrounds, skill levels, and teaching philosophies. That is the beauty of PBL. It is for EVERYONE.
Passion for Learning by Ronald J. Newell is a great book about project-based learning, which puts a spotlight on MN New Country School, an authentic project-based learning school in rural Minnesota. This book is informative and inspiring for those interested in moving into project-based teaching. Ronald J Newell describes project-based learning as the following:
It might feel like a lot, and it can feel overwhelming at first. But with the right resources, and by allowing learning to be driven by students, it all tends to fall into place. Not without hard work, mistakes, going back to the drawing board, trying new things, etc. but that is teaching. It's what we do. Changing up our teaching methods based on the evolving needs of our students is not only important, but THAT is our job.
Examples of Project-Based Learning:
I had a few students a couple of years ago who were interested in skateboarding. They could have easily done some research on a famous skateboarder, copied and pasted information into a Powerpoint presentation, presented it to the class, and called it a day. That is a project, not project-based learning. That wouldn't fly in my class because learning would have been shallow across the board. So...
This is what they did instead:
The students decided to create their own skateboard clothing brand. They named their company (Abstract Skate Co.), designed a logo, and met with a local screen printing company who taught them how to screen print AND set-up their own screen printing workshop at the school on a budget.
The students met with a local business, JAMF Software, for business tips. JAMF was so inspired by their project that the company ended up giving the students a grant to set up their own screen printing studio at the school and all merchandise needed to start their business. The students met with marketing professionals from JAMF for tips on branding their product. They printed shirts and skate decks, "hired" out another student to write their business plan, created a website, and planned and hosted a launch party for their brand. Now that's authentic project-based learning! Check out the photos below to get an idea of the process.
Benefits of PBL:
Although the brand never really took off (students graduated and went their own ways), the lessons learned and skills developed from this one project are profound. If they decide to take another stab at it in the future, they will have the skills to do so successfully.
There are a lot of benefits to project-based learning, but in my opinion the most important are the 1) development of skills essential for success in the 21st century, 2) intrinsic motivation to learn, and 3) a lifelong passion for learning. A poster board project on Tony Hawk would not have produced the same authentic and powerful learning experience.
Take a look at this handy visual that I put together below that compares a standard project with project-based learning and check back next week for specifics on each element of PBL.
Want your students to do projects like Viv and my skateboarding students? Check out my PBL bundle below or any variety of other project-based learning resources in my TpT store, many of which are free (Experiential Learning Depot.)
All of my projects are in keeping with the PBL principles mentioned in this post. They require little to no prep and train students to critically think and have their own ideas! The result is student-directed learning. Win! Right now is a great time to start thinking about project-based learning for next year or use it as an entire summer school course. Check out the preview for the bundle below or head to my store for individual PBL resources.
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Observe. Question. Explore. Share.
To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.