Project-based learning or problem-based learning (PBL) is a teaching approach in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.
Authentic PBL allows students to address challenges that are real to them and their lives.
For PBL to be successful, teachers need to understand:
Projects can be defined as a planned undertaking to accomplish a specific aim, and have been a valuable part of learning for a long time. Projects are often part of a larger body of work, with other types of learning building towards the final project.
There is a difference between including projects in learning programmes and undertaking PBL. In PBL the project is the unit of work. It encapsulates all the skills and knowledge the students need to learn. The project frames the curriculum and instruction aspects determined by the teacher. Students who experience PBL can be more engaged and better prepared for real world projects as a result.
Many different interactions and situations need to be planned and facilitated by the teacher. Digital technologies can be integrated in innovative and intentional ways into PBL, and have the potential to improve the process and resulting products.
Successful PBL involves setting clear learning goals. Goals are focused on curriculum-based knowledge, as well as a range of skills and competencies such as thinking (problem solving and critical thinking), participating and contributing, self-management, and communication. Collaborative documents can help with recording goals and tracking progress. Teachers and students can use the same document or tool to record progress, which can also be shared with whānau.
Successful learning involves students:
The project requires a meaningful problem to solve or a question to answer. Problems should involve real-world tasks, processes, and tools. Encourage learners to pursue personal concerns, interests and issues. Ideally the outcome should be used or experienced by others, rather than the learners themselves.
Use digital technologies for:
Help students to select appropriate digital tools for data collection and analysis. Provide options for students to analyse and present research data, including: graphs, images and infographics, oral presentation, and video.
The inquiry and design processes are iterative. Learners should engage in an extended process of asking questions, finding resources, and applying information. Learners should have (some) control over the questions that are asked, the resources that are used, and the outcomes that are developed as a result. Use of 3D modelling software and graphic design software, along with video and digital photography enables modelling of outcomes, presenting ideas, and recording iterative development.
Teach students the skill of delivering constructive feedback to each other and provide plenty of opportunities to practice. Developing a good attitude to receiving feedback requires exposure to feedback as well as opportunities to practice. Understanding how to incorporate feedback into future questions and outcomes is also important. Online forms and social media can be utilised to rapidly gather feedback.
Reflection on the process itself should be explicit and ongoing. Reflection helps learners:
Project journals, formative assessment, and discussions at project checkpoints are all great places for reflection. Use digital portfolios to capture reflections as the process unfolds, include images and video.
Outcomes should be public and presented outside of the class. Learners can explain, display and/or present to people beyond the classroom. Ideally the outcome will be used or displayed in the environment for which it was designed. Digital technologies enable multiple ways to share ideas and presentations – digital portfolios, web sites, online videos, and slide decks for example.
The Technology learning area that has the most synergy with a PBL approach. The inquiry and design processes that are central to project-based learning are also central to the Technology learning area. As such, Technology provides a structure to explore knowledge and issues in other learning areas. When undertaking any project, two strands in particular are helpful:
Due to the emphasis on student voice and undertaking projects that are authentic and meaningful to learners, PBL allows teachers to "be responsive to the needs, identities, languages, cultures, interests, strengths, and aspirations of learners and their families."
Leading local curriculum guide: Local curriculum – Designing rich opportunities and coherent pathways for all learners (2019, pg 5)
Project-based learning (PBL) is one way we can support deeper learning outcomes.
When developing a project-based learning (PBL) approach, consider designing project elements that reflect the following:
Provide opportunities for students to build key competencies and skills such as:
Consider using the strands of the Technology learning area to guide the process, in particular the Technological Practice and Nature of Technology strands.
If the goal of education is to allow learners to apply what they learn in real situations, learning must involve applications and take place in the context of authentic activities.
Consider how to integrate digital technologies in innovative and intentional ways to enhance the PBL process and resulting products. Identify digital technologies needed to:
Sam Cunnane, head of the arts faculty at Fraser High School, talks about the curriculum integration project. Sam says the scheme is about “turning the way we approach NCEA upside down by getting students to produce an authentic project.”
This matrix aligns well to PBL and how technology should be used in the PBL classroom.
Students can work together on cloud-based, collaborative tools to plan, design, develop, and present on:
Cloud-based collaborative tools could include:
A list of tools for schools, with ideas for in-class collaboration now, and anytime, anywhere connections later.
EmergingEdTech have put together a listing of 20 top-notch free tools that are being used in schools and classrooms to collaborate and interact on assignments, projects, and other active learning efforts.
This paper outlines how collaboration is essential in teaching 21st century skills and applying project-based learning in the classroom. Research has shown that, in addition to demonstrating mastery of subject matter, students who collaborate also increase their skills in problem solving, creativity, and interpersonal relationships.
A NZ blog post (April 2016) from Fusion Yearbooks providing useful information, suggestions for applications and software, and practical approaches to implement project-based learning into your classroom
1. Authentic audience integration
2. From products to management
3. Technology to assess collaboration
4. Digital fluency as a 21st century skill
1. McKenzie, A., Morgan, C., Cochrane, K., Watson, G. & Roberts, D. (2002) Authentic learning: What is it, and what are the ideal curriculum conditions to cultivate it in? University of Sydney, Australia.
Spiral of inquiry – Developing a Makerspace to create successful learning experiences for priority learners
The year 7 and 8 teaching team at Marshland School investigated the effect of authentic learning on increasing motivation and engagement among their students. Students identified their own real-life problems for projects and created solutions to these within the Makerspace. Students shared their products and learning at a Maker Faire where the local community was invited.
Launch – Project-based learning at Otago Girls' High School
What started as the seed of an idea has bloomed into a brand new course at Otago Girls' High School. Launch is pitched at year 12 and 13 students who wish to embark on a self-driven and directed project. It might be to design a product they see a need for, provide a service that currently is not available, or perhaps start a movement around an issue that is important to them.
Arrowtown School – Lighting up minds through project based learning
Grant Hammond and Joe Bailey, year 7 and 8 team leaders at Arrowtown School, explain their journey in implementing “Illuminate” – a project that has lit up the minds of their senior students and the slopes of Coronet Peak.
Teacher, Mike Crawford and his students from Woodend School describe why they are using Twitter to raise public awareness of local environmental issues.
Sam Cunnane, head of the arts faculty at Fraser High School, talks about an experiment in cross-curricular teaching at secondary school level.
Senior secondary students reflect on how their learning has changed at Fraser High School through curriculum integration and the use of authentic contexts as they produced the first issue of Passionfruit magazine.
Frankley School students design apps that work to solve problems in the community.
David Fox, software developer, talks about his mentoring role with Frankley School.
Students work with an industry mentor to plan their app design at Frankley School.
Brendon Anderson explains how Frankley School students bring real-world business roles into their classroom.
Year 13 student Daniel Cowpertwait describes a "mod" he has developed for an online game Portal.
At St Hilda's Collegiate, every Year 9 student is mentored with someone from the local community and they work throughout the year on their Passion project
Miranda Makin, DP Albany Senior High School, describes how technologies have enabled students engaged in the Impact Project to take their learning beyond the school and engage with experts to find information and share their learning.
Frankley School students share their enthusiasm for coding.
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As a mission-driven nonprofit organisation, Buck Institute creates, gathers, and shares high-quality PBL instructional practices and products and provides highly effective services to teachers, schools, and districts.
Education for sustainability
New Zealand’s national curriculum focuses on 21st century learning, ensuring learners are equipped to participate in and contribute to their own society and the wider world. An important aspect of this is encouraging students to consider significant future-focused issues such as sustainability.
A library of project ideas that cover a range of grade levels and subject areas.
Real World Math is a collection of free math activities for Google Earth designed for students and educators. In the virtual world of Google Earth, concepts and challenges can be presented in a meaningful way that portray the usefulness of the ideas. It also has a page with downloadable PBL projects .
PBL for beginners
Setting up your first project-based learning unit can be an intimidating task. Alyson Boustead, details her school’s venture into PBL, and the impact it had on her learners’ creativity, resourcefulness, and resilience.
The Technology Integration Matrix
This matrix aligns well to PBL and how technology should be used in the PBL classroom.
Curriculum integration: What is happening in New Zealand schools?
This NZCER report presents findings on teachers’ rationales for curriculum integration; the approaches and practices used to integrate curriculum; and the learning opportunities these approaches provide for students. Published 2019.
Enterprise in The New Zealand Curriculum
This ERO report has been written to help schools develop enterprise learning. Seven case studies present the challenges and benefits of enterprise as authentic teaching and learning.
Preparing students for a project-based world
This publication (August 2016) is the first in a three-part series aimed at promoting equity and access to deeper learning as an outcome for all students. It describes why and how all students should benefit from project-based learning (PBL) in preparation for a project-based world.
Investigating project based learning
A report by Heather Aked from Wellington East Girls' College on her 2016 Secondary Senior Managers' Sabbatical. Heather looked at current research on PBL and visited five schools with a reputation for good PBL practice.
25 Creative ways to incorporate more project-based learning in the classroom
A NZ blog post (April 2016) from Fusion Yearbooks providing useful information, suggestions for applications and software, and practical approaches to implement project-based learning into your classroom.
Getting Smart: Project-based learning
This section of the Getting Smart website provides up-to-date blog posts from guest authors focused on project-based learning.
How teachers can support PBL at home
This Edutopia articles provides tips and projects that teachers can share with parents and caregivers to guide children in any grade through project-based learning—with or without technology.
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