Project-Based Learning

Project-based learning is a method of teaching as part of which a child or a group of children conduct an in-depth study of a particular topic. When this level of instruction is managed by a teacher, students can be effectively engaged in as many decision-making junctures as possible. Exemplary teachers managing this level of instruction understand that learning from choice and learning from subject content are equally important. Project-based learning can potentially increase the sense of responsibility for and control over one's learning as a student.

Projects may be initiated by a child or teacher. Research is focused on finding answers to questions posed by students. In projects as an approach of teaching the direction of inquiry follows the interests of the children.

There are a number of additional characteristics of project-based learning. The project, progression, student interest, resources as well as community support determine the amount of time or length of the learning experience. As a result, it may last over several weeks or even months. The activities focus on investigation, finding answers to questions, using resources and especially making use of human experts who demonstrate skills and can be interviewed.

Teachers as well as school library media specialists facilitate and debrief students after field trips, interviews and in cases when diverse materials from different sources are used. In addition, not only teachers and school library specialists provide resources for the project, but also students, parents and other community members. Teachers and school library media specialists also observe the investigations and determine the next steps of the project by using student interest and questions. Students also help in the planning of the next steps of the project through discussions.

Concept maps or webs, which are written at various stages of the project, illustrate how the project changes and progresses, reflecting what the students knows, is learning and what is still left to be explored. Students collect or create artifacts and other objects, including model cars or spaceships, tools, fossils or other items relevant to the investigation and use them to represent the project. Students make final presentations or demonstrations that show the success or failure in implementing the project. In addition, there should be celebrations at which the students' projects can be showcased to their parents and other community members who can view and praise them.

At the highest learning levels in secondary schools, project-based learning should include challenging questions or problems as a result of which students are involved in design, problem-solving, decision-making or investigating activities. Such activities should allow students to work relatively autonomously over extended periods of time and lead to realistic products or presentations.

The complexities related to the implementation of project-based learning in public school environments can lead to some problems. The process can be time consuming and it can also be difficult to clearly show what the student learned when measures against standards. The provision of reasonable resources support can also prove expensive.

Research on project-based learning has shown students have difficulty in generating meaningful scientific questions, managing complex processes, managing time, transforming data and developing a logical argument to support claims. Students often find it difficult to understand the concept of controlled experiments and create inadequate research data as well as poor data collection plans. They pursue questions without examining their merits and also questions based on personal preferences and not ones warranted by the scientific project. Students also often fail to carry out their plans systematically.

Most students need a great deal of guidance and modeling for scientific projects. The findings tend to underline the need for science teachers and school library media specialists to collaborate and provide frequent interventions to advise, model and compare with previous successful projects. Teachers have also faced difficulties, reporting lack of time, difficulties in classroom management, poor access to technology and an inability to provide meaningful assessment.

However, a few studies have also shown positive effects from project-based learning. When students are involved in different project-based experiences over an extended period of time, such as several semesters, they develop their ability to raise complex and insightful questions. They also show higher gains in math word-problem performance, their attitude toward mathematics becomes more positive and their performance on math portions of standard exams is stronger than that of students who are not involved in projects. According to other studies, low-ability students show the greatest improvement in critical thinking skill performance on the basis of challenges presented in project-based activities.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Project-Based Learning Using Information Technology
David Moursund.
International Society for Technology in Education, 2003
Embracing Diversity in the Learning Sciences: Proceedings: June 22-26, 2004, University of California Los Angeles, Santa Monica, CA
Yasmin B. Kafai; William A. Sandoval; Noel Enyedy; Alfhea Scott Nixon; Francisco Herrera.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Includes discussion of project-based learning in multiple chapters
Increasing Student Learning through Multimedia Projects
Michael Simkins; Karen Cole; Fern Tavalin; Barbara Means.
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2002
World Cultures through Art Activities
Dindy Robinson.
Teacher Ideas Press, 1996
Science Units for Grades 9-12
Randy L. Bell; Joe Garofalo; Deborah Aufdenspring; Ian C. Binns; Adrienne Gauthier; Karen E. Irving; Stacey Koonce; Lawrence Krissek; Walter McKenzie; Rebecca L. McNall; Mike Menchaca; Jeffrey Nugent; Susan O'Hara; Jeffrey J. Steckroth; Jessica Stephenson; Gerry Swan; Douglas Toti; Kathy Trundle.
International Society for Technology in Education, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Project- And Problem-Based Learning" by Deborah Aufdenspring
Middle School Students as Multimedia Designers: A Project-Based Learning Approach
Liu, Min; Hsiao, Yu-Ping.
Journal of Interactive Learning Research, Vol. 13, No. 4, Winter 2002
Multiple Perspectives on Mathematics Teaching and Learning
Jo Boaler.
Ablex, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Who Counts What as Math? Emergent and Assigned Mathematics Problems in a Project-Based Classroom"
CSCL, Theory and Practice of An Emerging Paradigm
Timothy Koschmann.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1996
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "Technological Support for Teachers Transitioning to Project-Based Science Pratices"
Learner-Centered Instruction Promotes Student Success: Northface University Prepares Its Computer Science Students for the Workplace with Real-World Projects
Gonzales, Abigail Hawkins; Nelson, Laurie Miller.
T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), Vol. 32, No. 6, January 2005
Project-Based Workplace Learning: A Case Study
Gunasekara, Chrys.
SAM Advanced Management Journal, Vol. 68, No. 1, Winter 2003
Designing Collaborative Reflection Supporting Tools in E-Project-Based Learning Environments
Kim, Dongsik; Lee, Seunghee.
Journal of Interactive Learning Research, Vol. 13, No. 4, Winter 2002
Technology-Enhanced Project-Based Learning in Teacher Education: Addressing the Goals of Transfer
Howard, Judith.
Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, Vol. 10, No. 3, Autumn 2002
New Frontiers in HRD
Jean Woodall; Monica Lee; Jim Stewart.
Routledge, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "Project-Based Learning in Work Organizations"
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