I'm surprised at how often I still get asked if Project-Based Learning (PBL) is supported by research (I guess this very old approach is still new to many folks…). The good news is that there is strong evidence that when project-based learning is done right, there are positive outcomes for the learners, as these quotes from research summaries point out:
“A growing body of academic research supports the use of project-based learning in schools as a way to engage students, cut absenteeism, boost cooperative learning skills, and improve test scores. Those benefits are enhanced when technology is used in a meaningful way in the projects.” (The whole research summary)
“Studies have proven that when implemented well, project-based learning (PBL) can increase retention of content and improve students' attitudes towards learning, among other benefits.” (The whole research summary)
“Overall, the research on Project-based Learning (PBL) reports positive outcomes related to student learning in the areas of content knowledge, collaborative skills, engagement and motivation, and critical thinking and problem-solving skills.” (The whole research summary)
This week, both Gary Stager and I were featured speakers at the Association for Independent Maryland and DC Schools’ (AIMS) technology conference.
Gary is an old friend and colleague, who has a long history of working with 1to1 learning with laptop schools (including the very first, in Australia) and with other schools interested in leveraging technology for learning and in constructivist learning. He clearly loves children and everything he advocates for schools is based on creating better experiences (especially learning experiences) for children. He is provocative and takes on a lot of populist education ideas with a very common sense approach. He always leaves his audience thinking.
What follows are some of the ideas and quotes Gary shared in his sessions at the AIMS conference.
The secret to engaging students is using the right prompts. A good prompt is worth a 1000 words – a good prompt, challenge, problem, or motivation; appropriate materials; sufficient time; supportive culture (including expertise) – kids can do works that is beyond them. Good prompts require a really different educational environment, one that values the kinds of things that Reggio Amelia values.
Gary has several articles on effective PBL on his “virtual handout.” (among other great resources)
We have to think less about teaching how to do computers, or about working at someone else’s pace. We need to stop teaching secretarial skills. We need good prompts. We need to teach students to use the computer to create what they want to create.
Alan Kay – the computer is simply an instrument whose music is ideas.
Gary’s only rule when he is working with students – you have to be doing something.
Teacher as “Ringmaster”
“Students will do it for themselves, when it matters to them, but not when it is arbitrary or coercive” – Gary Stager
Less us, more them
Gary likes it when schools/classrooms focus their work with children by asking the question, “What are the 5 big ideas of your grade level or course?”
Some of Gary’s recipe for being successful with students: Being sensitive to the passions, talents, and styles of kids. Being receptive to the learning differences of kids. If you are doing active learning activities, then you can get to know kids.
The best decisions about education are made closest to the child.
What if we simply reduced it all to waking up every morning and asking, “How do we make this the best 7 hours possible for these children?”
The biggest problem we have in school is we don’t get to know the kids and everything is taught disconnected from everything else. That’s followed by not trying to make things interesting for students, not finding out what is of interest or a passion to the students, not having resources, not letting students do things.
Gary on why teachers need lots of PD that puts them in different learning environments as learners: People can’t choose from what they haven’t experienced
Recently, I reflected for the Project-Based Learning In Action newsletter, sponsored by Project Foundry, on the time a teacher asked me, “What version of PBL will we be doing?” The question was full of judgement, and smacked of the subtext, “What version is best?”
I’m not sure one is better than another. I think each “version” shares a common set of characteristics and the recipe you use to mix those characteristics defines the version. And I believe that each version (that includes a quality implementation of these characteristics) brings value to different goals, needs, and contexts.