Project-Based Learning: an Introduction

As Leland Elementary begins the new year it’s always a good idea to go back and revisit previously established goals.  One of our STEM Integration Plans for Year 1 involves project-based learning.  The goal from CPS states
 “100% of students in all grades have been exposed to a project-based, real-world, hands-on approach to learning Science, Technology, Engineering [year 2], and Math lessons aligned to CCSS, NGSS, and NETS.”
To that end, this post is meant to provide you with some background regarding project-based learning.  Future posts will provide examples of project-based learning activities that can be done with students, including using iPads.

Project and Problem Based Learning

In many instances these terms are used interchangeably.  While very similar they are in fact different.  Both instructional strategies rely on inquiry to solve real-world, authentic problems or questions.  These projects are usually open-ended with more than one way to approach and solve them.  Both methods are student-centered, with the teacher acting more as a facilitator or coach.  Multiple sources of information are sought within cooperative groups as well.

Project-based learning sometimes begins with an ending artifact already in mind that students work toward producing.  Problem-based learning begins with a problem for students to learn more about.  Many times these problems are presented in a “real-world” scenario for students to relate to and work to solve.   Interestingly project-based learning is more of a k-12 term while problem-based learning tends to be used more commonly in colleges and Universities.

Here is a great article explaining the two more in depth.

Resources to Learn More

Below are some helpful resources to become more familiar with project-based learning.

Edutopia’s YouTube playlist on project-based learning in elementary school

Here's an article containing 45 links to great project based learning

The Buck Institute for Education has some great resources on PBL.  Look at this page of their site
for articles, rubrics, planning forms, and handouts to get you started.

Here's a great chart outlining the differences between project and problem based learning.

An additional rubric can be accessed here


Ten Tips for Replicating Project-Based Learning

Finally, a page detailing the difference between an activity vs. a project


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