The focus of a project is the product, while the focus of project-based learning is the learning that occurs through the development of the project.
If that just sounds like pitter-patter, then let's just focus on the quality of the project or project-based learning. How do I evaluate the project's caliber?
|PhotoPainter with Bloom's Taxonomy|
- Does it qualify as one of the top three levels of Bloom's Taxonomy?
- Is there variety in project outcome due to student choice and critical reasoning?
- Does the assessment measure the learning?
It's rigorous when it is focused on higher level thinking from Bloom's Taxonomy. How do you know? There is diversity in the product, and it's not something that can be looked up online or read in a book.
A project that takes a long time to complete does not make it rigorous. Creating a model of a castle is a beautiful thing, but models typically fall between the understanding and applying lower-levels of Bloom's Taxonomy.
If that's the case, the time shouldn't be spent making it. Instead, teach it through direct instruction, look it up online or in a book, and then move on. Or, restructure it at a higher level of Bloom's Taxonomy.
PBL should be open ended with more than one type of product. However, having a choice board of different projects is not what I'm referring to here. That might be good differentiated instruction, but that does not make it PBL.
Even if there are a lot of steps and instructions written down, the final products the students create should be diverse.
Variety with Technology
Having students create presentations does not make it PBL. Taking the traditional research report and adding in technology to create a digital presentation does not change what it is -- it's just a fancy research report.
Note: I create lessons that are described above, where we engage in a web activity and then students create presentations. I create these as a bridge from traditional teaching to student centered learning. It should not be mistaken for PBL, because it is a traditional lesson with technology layered on top.
The goal when using technology in PBL is to connect beyond the four classroom walls, which wouldn't have been possible otherwise (such as connecting with primary sources, video conferencing, wikis, podcasts, blogs, etc.). It's also important to provide students with the freedom to choose the product and the tools to create it.
The assessment should be made ahead of time, and should focus on measuring the learning outcomes rather than the product fanciness or the presentation itself. I will comment on this point more in another post.
Common Misunderstanding with Thematic Units and PBL
Having hearts on everything in February is cute, but it's not project-based learning. It's just a Valentine's theme, even if they create art work with hearts and write Valentine's stories. Some thematic units are extremely thought provoking, such as caring, generosity, fairness, or equality, and could easily be turned into PBL.
Quality project-based learning focuses on higher levels of thinking from Bloom's Taxonomy; problem solving and/or critical thinking; quality learning outcomes, and assessment that matches the learning objective. Through reflection and planning, you can always improve the project, thematic unit, or techy traditional lesson, and transform it into quality project-based learning. So grab a colleague or a group of learners to bounce ideas around, and rework those old lessons/projects/themes into quality PBL.
This post was inspired by Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age (pages 60-62); Patrick Ledesma's articles on Choice 2.0; a conversation with FPES Principal, Brenda Farris; and the educators in AJUSD who are learning more about PBL.