Half a century ago Project-Based Learning (PBL) emerged as a practical teaching strategy for allowing students to solve problems or do simulations that mimic real life. Today, PBL remains the optimal education method for authentic 21st-century learning. This research-based learning process continues to be the engine for STEM education, an important initiative that puts students in charge of asking questions and discovering answers for authentic challenges that people and society face. PBL involves students in planning and organizing work, choosing resources, and managing long-term activities. To solve problems they collaborate, invent, design, investigate, evaluate, revise, and communicate their solutions with authentic audiences. No wonder that as we trek farther into the 21st century, PBL is the pedagogy of choice for future-thinking educators and all STEM programs.
Want to boost your students’ readiness for today’s world? Let’s take a look at some specific outcomes that using a PBL approach in your classroom can produce for your students.
A focus on solutions rather than problems. PBL will help your kids develop a creative and analytical thinking mindset. They’ll
on finding answers and solutions for problems you present and for problems they experience in life. Frame your students’ learning experiences around specific human or community needs and watch their interest and engagement skyrocket. They will actively take part in designing strategies and devices that directly impact, or create solutions, for the problem. As they do this, they are going to develop a lot of unique skills and valuable mindsets.
Experience in planning and managing projects. PBL uses a design thinking process – a systematic series of steps – to guide students as they define, plan, and design solutions. Throughout
they can use design thinking skills to attack novel and complex situations they encounter. One widely used form of design thinking for the STEM classroom is the Engineering Design Process – an iterative process that kids use to go from identifying a challenge to communicating their solution. Students gain confidence and skill as they use this process for an extended period to investigate and respond to questions or challenges.
Skill in working in collaborative cultures. Team projects build social awareness and collaboration skills. PBL will require your students to interact productively with one another in small teams to develop ideas and design solutions. (You may guide successful teaming with publications such as these Student Teaming Tips.) Students will also learn to communicate within their school and community to share ideas, research new knowledge, and connect what they learn to real actions they can take.
Development of new “must have” skills for the workforce. The students you teach today will face complex challenges and new workforce demands when they graduate. Knowing how to solve problems, work collaboratively, think innovatively, be empathetic and supportive, make connections across ideas, and be creative are now essential skills – not only for solving local
but for tackling difficult issues in communities around the world. PBL offers students ongoing opportunities to develop, use, and ingrain these skills for current and future use.
Practice in presenting, publishing, and performing. Being an effective communicator is an often-neglected skill in the classroom. Students’ work on PBL projects helps them to develop this talent as they interact with teammates, with other students, and with those outside the classroom. Students must keep up carefully with what they have learned and done during the project and be able to convey that information. They will develop innovative, creative, and persuasive communication skills as they prepare to share the results of their investigations and solutions.
Increased confidence and joy in learning. When they are directly involved in planning and steering projects, your students will be more invested in their learning. They want to find answers and solutions to relevant issues. They are free from the fear of failure since there are multiple solutions to a problem and, if their first ideas don’t work, they can revise and try again. In PBL, your students will have more control of their learning, and you, their teacher, can facilitate students as needed.
More good news! Studies comparing learning outcomes for students taught by project-based learning versus traditional instruction show that when implemented well, PBL increases long-term retention of content, improves problem-solving and collaboration skills, and improves students' attitudes towards learning. PBL better supports students in revising and modifying work, redirecting energies, and taking
initiative to promote their own progress. And, for the record, PBL students perform as well as or better than traditional learners in high-stakes tests.