Project-Based Learning Is Real-World Preparation For Success

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By: Ali Kaufman, founder & schoolhouse director, Space of Mind Special to the Boca and Delray newspapers

If you’re a parent or educator, you’ve probably heard the term Project-Based Learning in discussions with other parents and educators recently. What is Project-Based Learning, and why is it trending in education today? Designed as a way to integrate 21st Century skills into academic work, PBL allows students to critically examine a problem and create their own project-based inquiry and solutions using student-directed research, collaborations and even real-world experience like community service. As schools are quickly adapting this teaching methodology, more students – and classrooms – are thriving.

With Project-Based Learning, students are working in their classrooms the way adults approach work in our offices. They are looking at a problem from all sides, developing inquiry and research skills to understand not just the root cause of a problem, but the different variables. Research is placed in a real-world context, allowing students to tap into technology and skills that they will use in the workforce. Students are given the opportunity to design their project and make crucial decisions along the way. This exploration in the learning process builds confidence, communication skills and also an understanding of consequences. Typically, in Project-Based Learning, the educator is the guide; the student is driving their educational experience through interest and inquisitiveness. Creativity is the ultimate motivator.

The project typically culminates in a public presentation, allowing the student(s) to explain the project and even install it in a working capacity. The presentation skills gained in this phase are vital to a student’s confidence-building as a public speaker, able to walk others through their problem, process and final project. Students of any age are energized by the opportunity to share what they’ve learned when their learning was on a journey they created.

Students are less excited to share their knowledge when their learning was based off of worksheets and chapter outlines. Often, they will have a harder time remembering key information from a memory-based assignment than they would from a project-based assignment. This is because our memory is experiential. We remember more of what we DO than of what we merely read or write about. Moreover, we memorize the decisions we make, the creativity we impart and the process that led us to the conclusion. Literally, a project-based lesson is a map drawn by the student on a journey to answer a key question. Each student’s journey will be different – and personal. As they present their projects to one another, each will learn from another’s experience, too, therefore offering more avenues to learn from and experiences to influence their own.

The greatest benefit to Project-Based Learning is perhaps the option to integrate multiple academic subjects into the project. For example, if a student is learning about a theory in science class, that doesn’t mean that the project should only include scientific research. Instead, the conclusions in that project can be influenced by the history of the time period, the personal connections to the person who discovered the theory, the math behind it, the art that can be created from it, the impact it has on nature and more. The goal of PBL is to cross over typical educational boundaries and invite into the process all of the ways a topic impacts learning – and life.

After all, isn’t this how we interact in the real world? If we don’t live in silos, but rather in an integrated and multi-faceted world, why should our students learn in silos? A cross-discipline approach to learning that deepens not only knowledge but resourcefulness is key to advancing education. It’s also super vital to what students want and need most – to make learning fun, accessible and personalized.