The Buck Institute of Education defines project-based learning as:
a standards-focused systematic teaching method that engages students in learning knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, authentic questions and carefully designed products and tasks.
Projects-based learning is similar to inquiry-based or experiential learning in some ways; however, PBL focuses heavily on standards and the evaluation of student learning.
Wikipedia defines challenge-based learning as:
a pedagogic approach for K12 education pioneered by education staff at Apple, Inc. that has its roots in problem-based learning and the work of John Dewey.
Challenge-based learning consists of five components:
- The Big Idea
- Essential Questions
- The Challenge
- Guiding Questions and Activities
- Guiding Resources
- Solutions, Implementations, and Reflections
Both PBL and CBL are standards focused and embrace authentic learning with real world connections. Both approaches require students to use questioning, collaboration, creativity, and problem solving – all of the higher order thinking skills. In considering implementation, two main issues surface immediately for me as a teacher:
- How can this fit within an existing mapped-curriculum?
- How can I adequately and fairly assess my students?
In considering the first, while this presents a challenge for teachers in schools which are curriculum-driven, both PBL and CBL can be utilized effectively to cover multiple areas of a mapped curriculum in an integrated format. In my 6th grade language arts / social studies classes, we constantly integrate language arts and social studies outcomes within the units that we teach. The incorporation of more PBL and/or CBL learning experiences would, in my opinion, improve our program. Nonetheless, we do follow a mapped-curriculum and “coverage” always seems to become an issue.
Seymour Papert , in his Edutopia article, Project-Based Learning, suggests that, in order for PBL, to be most effective, schools need to rethink the concept of “curriculum”, at least in terms of content coverage and time frames. He believes in an approach that allows students to learn what they need to know and when they need it. Nonetheless, even with an “out of the box” curriculum approach such as this, schools still need a way to document, at the very least, which standards are being taught in which years and in which areas.
Coming from an elementary background, integration has always been the norm for me. Often times, without it, it would be impossible to teach all of the mapped-curriculum. Considering this, clearly there is a place for PBL and/or CBL even in schools which are curriculum-driven. We don’t have to throw out our curriculum to incorporate PBL and CBL types of activities, but a standards-based curriculum map geared more toward process than content along with a similar reporting system should be considered in regarding innovations for 21st century learning in our schools.
Regarding assessment, group grading has always been a bit of a conundrum for me. Since PBL and CBL are primarily group learning activities, questions regarding the assessment of individual students arise. It is currently the policy of my team not to issue group grades. In other words, we refrain from giving the same grade to all individuals in a group. We do, however, give students individual grades for our “Approaches To Learning”, which includes the stem, “works effectively with others.” As it stands now, their performance in a group, whether it be stellar or marginal, is not considered when determining their overall academic letter grade for the semester.
We have had many discussions regarding this at our team level and as a division. Our collective stance seems, still, to be forming. In good conscience, even if there are real-world implications, it is unfair to give a student who works hard and does their part, and more, a poor grade on a group activity as a result of the performance of others, and vice versa. Are their ways to get around this? Certainly there are. First it is not important that every single activity receive an academic grade. Our teachers believe that the “Approaches To Learning” marks are just as important as the semester letter grade.
According to Papert, with PBL, we should be assessing, not curricular content, but how kids are “using knowledge”. Realistically, we still have to assess the “right and wrong” answer type of content. Teachers can do this through anecdotal records kept for each individual throughout a PBL unit. Additionally, checklists and rubrics can be created and applied to the individual performances of group members and to the integrated content of the activity. There are numerous other ways to collect individual data which require a fair amount of thought and ingenuity, but the learning payoffs would make it well worth the effort.
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With the added benefit of technology, the possibility for the exploration and incorporation of project-based learning is even greater. PBL and CBL allow students to collaborate locally and globally while engaging in the highest levels of Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy: applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. Issues regarding curriculum and assessment become secondary when considering the learning implications associated with these types of authentic endeavors.