How To Turn Any Unit into A Project-Based Learning Experience

I was worried the first time I tried a project-based learning unit with my students. As a young teacher, I had prided myself on running a challenging class and had focused much of my attention on getting my students prepared for what we were both going to be assessed on: the test.

I was not doing test prep. I didn’t believe that giving students sample test questions would make them do any better on our state standardized scores (and still don’t).

Yet, I was actively trying to match my lessons and activities to what they would be assessed on later down the road. I thought that this was best practice, and would benefit us both as they would be ready to tackle challenging questions (in any format) as we got towards the end of the school year.

Heading into our first true project-based learning unit, I wondered whether my students would learn as much as they did when I was teaching in more traditional methods.

I wasn’t the only one finding out how wrong I had been about Project Based Learning. Everywhere I turned I started to see articles, journal reviews, and videos of teachers around the world who had seen their students achieve at high levels when moving from a traditional teaching approach to a PBL approach.

When Edutopia came out with this overview of the research around PBL I nodded my head at the results:

Studies comparing learning outcomes for students taught via project-based learning versus traditional instruction show that when implemented well, PBL increases long-term retention of content, helps students perform as well as or better than traditional learners in high-stakes tests, improves problem-solving and collaboration skills, and improves students’ attitudes towards learning (Strobel & van Barneveld, 2009Walker & Leary, 2009). PBL can also provide an effective model for whole-school reform (National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform, 2004Newmann & Wehlage, 1995).

A 2016 MDRC/Lucas Education Research literature review found that the design principles most commonly used in PBL align well with the goals of preparing students for deeper learning, higher-level thinking skills, and intra/interpersonal skills (Condliffe et al., 2016).

No longer could the argument be about how well (or poorly) students would do on standardized assessments. The research was clear. When PBL was implemented well, students thrived in traditional tests and in a wide variety of soft-skills that are crucial to development and success beyond school.

The Buck Institute for Education also put out a research summary on PBL and 21st Century competencies that states, “Project Based Learning has been shown to yield a number of benefits for students, ranging from deeper learning of academic content to stronger motivation to learn. Looking specifically at how PBL supports 21st century learning goals, we can find several promising areas, including:

  • Academic Achievement
  • 21st Century Competencies
  • Equity
  • Motivation
  • Teacher Satisfaction

If you asked any teacher, administrator, parent, school board member, student, or community member to list their top goals for an academic program, you would see achievement, 21st century competencies, equity, and motivation all at the top.

Project-based learning is shown to work in all kinds of schools, in all different grade levels, with students of varying backgrounds and abilities.

So, if this is what the research says about PBL, then why do we still have so many schools falling into the test prep trap? Why do some many teachers feel like they cannot make the jump into PBL? Why haven’t we seen a nationwide movement towards PBL as a best and effective practice for all students?

It comes back to HOW to do PBL in the midst of standards and curriculum. I’ve put together a free workshop to show you the 5-step process to do just that.

The Free Online Workshop is happening this Monday night at 9pm EST. You can sign-up to be a part of the training right here!

Sign-Up For My Free Workshop: How To Turn Any Unit into A Project-Based Learning Experience

Can’t wait to share this process with you and see how you can take PBL to the next level of authentic learning!

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