Project-based learning   July, 2015
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Chances are
    Photo credit: Erin Brownfield, EdSource
good that if you work in education, you've heard about project-based learning, or "PBL." With the adoption of Common Core, project-based learning is on the rise, as EdSource's Katherine Ellison reported in April.

But no one claims that effective project-based learning is easy. Teachers need training, materials, and time to make it work.  


So I asked Tyler Graff, a principal with experience starting and growing a school-wide project-based learning effort, to share his advice about what factors need to be considered. Look for our Q-and-A below.  


Thanks for reading. We welcome your feedback

Erin Brownfield, Editor 

What is project-based learning?


There are many definitions of project-based learning (so many, in fact, that it can lead to frustration) but one of the clearest is from the Te@chThought blog: "Project-based learning is simply a method of structuring curriculum around projects. These projects highlight the process of learning itself by offering authentic, inquiry-based activities for learners to access content, share ideas, and revisit their own thinking. PBL... often requires students to collaborate, design, revise, and share their ideas and experiences with authentic audiences and supportive peer groups."    


   Principal Tyler Graff
Q-and-A with Tyler Graff

Tyler Graff lead the rollout of a project-based learning initiative at a public elementary school in Mountain View starting in 2012. The initiative has expanded each year since.

LC: Why do you use a project-based learning approach at your public elementary school?  


TG: Not only do student attitudes about learning improve, students retain the information they're taught on a deeper level.  When done well, project-based learning helps students with the soft skills of collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking that many colleges and employers are looking for.  In the end, students are able to comprehend, apply, and retain the content knowledge taught while developing the 21st century skills that the Common Core Standards ask of teachers and students.   


Read the full interview, including advice and a few cautions for schools new to project-based learning, at this link.


Victor Arellano says project-based learning ignited his love of education

David Ross of the Buck Institute for Education says his goal in life is to do away with the traditional California grade-school assignment to build a replica of a Spanish mission while studying state history. Ross said the typical mission project "has convinced a generation of teachers that they are engaged in PBL."


Read more about what Ross considers authentic project-based learning. 
Research and resources about project-based learning

More research on the effectiveness of project-based learning is needed before
Photo credit: Erin Brownfield, EdSource
wide-ranging claims can be made about its impact on student achievement. According to ASCD, "The broad and varied definitions of project-based learning make it difficult to identify a distinct body of research on its practice."

But positive outcomes have been identified when it is done effectively: it can increase student retention of content leading to deeper learning, it can lead to greater teacher satisfaction, and can increase student engagement. Edutopia provides a five-part research review, with bibliography.

If you're looking for resources about creating and evaluating projects, Buck Institute's PBL resource page is a good place to start: it offers resources from all over the web, including articles; a searchable, curated project database; videos; Google hangouts; and handbooks.

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