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What is project-based learning – really?

And how is Pitsco addressing the formal requirements of PBL?

Published September 4, 2019
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One of the biggest struggles we face in education today is student engagement. If you read about the issue, you can find varying reasons that it exists, but it all comes down to answering the age-old question, “Why do I need to know this?” Education is full of trends and new programs, but when relevance is apparent in learning, students engage. Disengaged students are everywhere and not isolated to a specific socioeconomic, gender, or race category.

However, there is hope. If you have never heard of project-based learning (PBL), it’s generally defined as a student-centered classroom model in which students acquire deeper learning through active exploration of real-world challenges and problems. The key part of that definition is “real-world challenges and problems.” In other words, relevancy.

PBL is gaining momentum in education but has a foundation that is more than 50 years old. When done right, project-based learning yields outcomes that are exciting and can easily engage or reengage students in their education. One of the main benefits is that the 21st-century skills of communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity are embedded into any well-designed PBL project or unit.

When teachers implement PBL into their classrooms, they generally follow some type of model to guide their instructional design. The two more popular models are the Gold Standard PBL and the Framework for High Quality PBL. The Gold Standard PBL is provided by PBLWorks (the Buck Institute of Education), which has been the leader in the PBL movement since 1987. The development of the Framework for High Quality PBL was facilitated and introduced by the Buck Institute of Education in March 2018. The two models contain design elements that students progress through while experiencing the PBL project/unit.

When you compare the two models side by side, you find similarities. For example, authenticity, reflection, and public product are critical components to a solid PBL project. Keep in mind that the biggest outcome of any PBL experience is relevance, and authenticity plays a huge role in meeting that goal. Sometimes, I am asked if Pitsco’s products and programs are project-based learning, and the answer is . . . we meet several criteria in the PBL models, but we aren’t fully aligned with the Gold Standard PBL or Framework for High Quality PBL at this time.

Pitsco believes that “hands on is minds on,” and that leads to student engagement, so as we progress toward a PBL path, you can rest assured that Pitsco’s goal of providing successful learning and understanding in a relevant manner will never be compromised.

Additional Information:

“Gallup has conducted more than 5 million surveys with students in grades five through 12 over the past several years. These students have come from every state and from a range of rural, suburban and urban school settings. Almost half of students who responded to the survey are engaged with school (47%), with approximately one-fourth ‘not engaged’ (29%) and the remainder ‘actively disengaged’ (24%)” (Gallup.com/education/244022/school-engagement-talk.aspx).

“Overall, the majority of students, at least 80 percent, taking a PBL course state that the greatest value is the ability to apply what they have learned to their lives outside of class” (Edutopia.org/knowledge-in-action-PBL-research-results).

“She walked in, and he was at the workstation dissecting owl pellets. The lady looks at me and says, ‘That’s my kid who’s been kicked out of three schools. What’s he doing?’ Well, he’s dissecting owl pellets, he’s learning. She was like, ‘How did you get him to do it?’ We didn’t get him to do that. It’s a self-engaging program, and the teacher is just facilitating. It’s pretty cool to see that.”

– Jerry Lager, superintendent, Ki Charter, San Marcos, Texas

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