What is project-based learning?

Assumption College Undergraduate

Pedagogy is defined as the method and practice of teaching, especially as an academic subject or theoretical concept. Assumption education students are no strangers to this term, and the various teaching methods and practices it embodies.

One segment of pedagogy is in the realm of project-based learning (or PBL), “which asserts that students learn best by experience and solving real-world problems,” according to Edutopia.

PBL students tackle realistic problems, learn responsibility, and work with their peers, among others.

Assumption Assistant Professor of Education Lisa D’Souza teaches History Methods for Secondary Education.  As a part of the course, Education students complete a unit plan that is focused on one core question that is both thought provoking and holds the ability to be answered in different ways (by future students). Professor D’Souza teaches that in order for students to gain in-depth knowledge, they need to come to their own conclusions.

Assumption Education majors also learn how to focus lessons on one important question to lead classroom discussions and help guide students towards higher-level thinking, including how to teach students to lead their own effective classroom discussions.

Studies comparing project-based learning students and those of traditional instruction show that project-based learning students are more likely to retain information they learned, perform as well as or better than traditional learners in high-stakes tests, have more positive attitudes towards learning and have improved problem-solving skills.

“These inquiry-based teaching methods engage students in creating, questioning and revising knowledge, while developing their skills in critical thinking, collaboration, communication reasoning, synthesis and resilience.”

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ACSD) outlines seven factors that turn any project into a meaningful assignment, including:

  • A need to know;
  • A driving question;
  • Student voice and choice;
  • 21st Century skills;
  • Inquiry and innovation;
  • Feedback and revision; and
  • A publicly present product.

Learning by doing is nothing new. Confucius, Aristotle, and Socrates were (very) early proponents of similar methods — questioning, inquiry, critical thinking — all strategies that are central to PBL classrooms.

Some schools are implementing these project-based, inquiry-based methods as a complete curriculum, others as just one part of their curricula. Cambridge, Massachusetts-based NuVu Studio, for example, is a full-time innovation center for middle and high school students that pairs students with real-world projects. Their projects have themes like “the future of global warming” or “balloon mapping,” and one health-themed group was able to mock up and make a prosthetic hand on a 3D printer.

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