What is Project Based Learning?

Group 1: What is Project Based Learning?

(1) Define Project Based Learning. Describe the difference between Project Based Learning and Problem Based Learning.

According to Edutopia, “Project-based learning is a dynamic approach to teaching in which students explore real-world problems and challenges. With this type of active and engaged learning, students are inspired to obtain a deeper knowledge of the subjects they’re studying” (2016).  Essentially, PBL provides students the opportunity to discover or explore real world issues and work with their peers to solve them. Students are more motivated, confident and earn deeper knowledge; more than they would by just recieving information to memorize and a final exam.

Project Based Learning occurs when a teacher provides a topic for the students to research, resulting in a product, whereas Problem Based Learning, a forerunner of PBL, applies when students discover a problem that they want to solve, such as: How can we promote recycling to reduce the amount of refuse in landfills, oceans and in our drinking water? Students could then discuss this problem as a class, with the teacher, within their groups, among groups from other classes or schools, etc. to solve this problem. The final result: Problem solving strategies applied, deeper knowledge understood, confident communication and effective collaboration with peers, and finally, a thorough and professional final presentation (BIE, 2010 & Johnson and Lamb, 2007).

Problem-based learning originated among medical school interns, but has been applied to mathematics and science instruction among school-aged students.  According to Thomas, “Much of this research has emanated from the Center for Problem Based Learning at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA) in Aurora, Illinois where the faculty have developed a one-semester problem-based course entitled Science, Society, and the Future focused on “unresolved science-related social issues” (2000).

(2) Why should teachers consider incorporating PBL in their classroom?

Project Based Learning is an upgrade to the traditional teaching style, where students would receive information about a particular topic, complete pen & paper assignments and finally, complete an exam. Unfortunately, this doesn’t necessarily mean that a student who receives 100% on their exam will remember this information the next day, nor will they understand the ins and outs of the topic and be able to apply it within the real world. PBL provides students the benefit of actively solving problems that are engaging and complex.  Students communicate more effectively with each other, collaborate to find common ground and engage their critical thinking skills (BIE, 2010).

Using PBL in the classroom puts students on a path that leads to deeper thought processes, ultimately leading to retention of knowledge and success in their futures.  Teachers should apply this model into their classroom curriculum, for example:

  • Divide students into 3-4 student groups, depending on class size, time available and topic
  • Provide a project idea, problem or range of ideas for the students to research and present
  • Students will discuss the project or problem as a class, with the teacher, and among their peer groups
  • Students will strategize how they will conduct research, when to collaborate with peer groups and what their final presentation or problem solving ideas will look like
  • After an appropriate amount of time, depending on the problem or project, students will receive feedback from their teacher and peers
  • Last, students would present their work, professionally to their class, school or parents… (Vega, 2015).

(3) What are the essential components of a PBL approach to instruction?

The Buck Institute for Education (BIE) provides a PBL checklist for teachers, which includes 8 essential elements. Applying these elements to the curriculum, along with core standards and collaboration with fellow educators, provides students with a learning platform that is not only meaningful, but also motivating for the students to do their best, while acting as an investigator on an engaging topic (2010).

  • Key Knowledge, Understanding & Success Skills: The project is focused on teaching students key knowledge and understanding derived from standards, and success skills including critical thinking/problem solving, collaboration, and self-management.
  • Challenging Problem or Question: The project is based on a meaningful problem to solve or a question to answer, at the appropriate level of challenge for students, which is operationalized by an open-ended, engaging driving question.
  • Sustained Inquiry: The project involves an active, in-depth process over time, in which students generate questions, find and use resources, ask further questions, and develop their own answers.
  • Authenticity: The project has a real-world context, uses real-world processes, tools, and quality standards, makes a real impact, and/or is connected to students’ own concerns, interests, and identities.
  • Student Voice & Choice: The project allows students to make some choices about the products they create, how they work, and how they use their time, guided by the teacher and depending on their age and PBL experience.
  • Reflection: The project provides opportunities for students to reflect on what and how they are learning, and on the project’s design and implementation.
  • Critique & Revision: The project includes processes for students to give and receive feedback on their work, in order to revise their ideas and products or conduct further inquiry.
  • Public Product: The project requires students to demonstrate what they learn by creating a product that is presented or offered to people beyond the classroom.


Buck Institute for Education. (2010). Introduction to Project Based Learning. Novato, CA: Buck Institute for Education.

Buck Institute for Education. (2010). Project Based Learning: Explained.Novato, CA: Buck Institute for Education.

Edutopia. (2016). STEAM + project-based learning: Real solutions from driving questions. Atlanta, GA: George Lucas Educational Foundation.

Johnson, L. and Lamb, A. (2007). Project, problem, and inquiry-based learning. Teacher Tap.

Thomas, J.W. (2000). A review of research on project-based learning. San Rafael, CA: The Autodesk Foundation.

Vega, Vanessa. (2015). Project-based learning research review. San Rafael, CA: Edutopia.


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