Nina Berler, College and Career Readiness Specialist
Conduct an internet search, and you’ll see numerous companies selling products and services for educators engaged in what they call “PBL.” According to an ASCD publication, “The core idea . . . is that real-world problems capture students’ interest and provoke serious thinking as the students acquire and apply new knowledge in a problem-solving context. The teacher lays the role of facilitator, working with students to frame worthwhile questions, structuring meaningful tasks, coaching both knowledge development and social skills, and carefully assessing what students have learned from the experience.”
Perhaps the emphasis on "college and career ready" has spawned an interest in project-based learning products and services, but good teachers have used this idea across subject areas for years. Since solving problems is a major life skill, I believe there is no minimum age for project-based learning.
As early as kindergarten and early elementary years, students have projects. Elementary students may plant seeds in different lighting conditions and monitor their growth, while middle school students use information from Nutrition Facts to assess dietary changes over time. Since many students thrive on structure, projects are a logical way to introduce journals, charts, measurement and graphs. In this era of state standards and standards-based testing, there is no better time for students to learn to form thesis statements, conduct research, interpret charts and tables, and organize information. In class, group discussions are expected, with students long accustomed to rearranging desks and tables and getting in discussion mode. The potential for growth in project-based learning is really unlimited.
For an understanding of project-based learning and a look at how it applies at any grade, check out this outstanding website from the Buck Institute for Education.