Essential Elements of Project Based Learning

What elevates Project based learning from fun exercise to a powerful real world learning experience? There are some essential  and critical elements to consider when applying project based learning in classroom. Using the  following , research proven,  steps will allow a teacher to design a learning experience that goes beyond the mere memorization of content and will promote  21st-century skills.

To begin with, the project should have authenticity i.e. it involves a real world context and should meet a real need in the world beyond the classroom. It should focus on a problem or an issue or a topic that is relevant to students’ lives or that is actually being faced by adults in the world.  Fully authentic projects are powerful and effective because they allow students to feel like they can have impact on the world

In PBL,the project is framed by a driving question to be solved or  answered . A good driving question meets the following criteria ; it should be engaging for students, open-ended and aligned with the learning goals. The driving question should be so crafted that it initiates the inquiry process . In today’s world, what is the point of building a project around an answer which the students can Google easily? Additionally,if the question posed sounds like an essay question it isn’t going to prompt students into an inquiry. The driving question could be abstract (When is war justified?); concrete (Is our air safe to breathe?); or focused on solving a problem (How can we create an effective emergency response for natural disaster in the city?).

Before introducing the project it is important to create a need to know in students so that  they are engaged in the project from the onset . Teachers can activate the need to know with an entry event  that is designed to spark students interest and initiate questioning. An entry event can be almost anything: a video, a lively discussion, a guest speaker, a field trip, or a piece of mock correspondence that sets up a scenario and ignites interest . In the project on “emergency response for natural disaster “students are shown variety of videos on natural disasters  followed by a lively discussion in which students share their understanding of natural disasters, disaster related events that have happened recently in their area and the preparedness for a natural disaster. The teacher could then introduce the project by telling students that they would be learning more about natural disasters  and proposing actions to combat it. Students then  engage in sustained inquiry; a rigorous, extended process of posing questions, finding resources, gathering  and interpreting  information   and asking further questions. Students find project work more meaningful if they conduct real inquiry, which does not mean finding information in books or websites and pasting it onto a poster. In real inquiry, students begin with a list of their own questions, search for resources and discover answers. This often leads to generating new questions, testing ideas, and drawing their own conclusions. In the project “emergency response to natural disaster ,” students begin research ; They use websites, books & magazine articles that relate to disasters; videos  of disasters, newscasts of disaster reporting . They investigate possible disaster plans and make comparisons. Further they interview police and firefighters; Additionally, students create a survey to use in community to asses current level of disaster management understanding within the city.

In PBL students have a voice and choice on important matters .They have opportunities to take significant responsibility and work as independently from teacher as is appropriate ,under guidance. Allowing students to have a voice in the project is important for creating an ownership of the project.  On the limited-choice end of the scale, learners can select what topic to study within a general driving question. On the other end of the scale, students can decide what products they will create, what resources they will use, and how they will structure their time. Students could even choose a project’s topic and driving question.

Feedback and revision is an element frequently incorporated in PBL .Students must continuously reflect, give and take feedback on the driving question and keep revising as needed. In addition to providing direct feedback, the teacher should coach students in using rubrics or other sets of criteria to critique one another’s work. Teachers can arrange for experts or adult mentors to provide feedback, which is especially meaningful to students .Public Product is the final element of PBL . Students make their project work public by sharing it with and explaining or presenting it to people beyond the classroom. Public audience can take many forms including writing and sending letters to public officials ,preparing exposition for community members and parents or giving a formal presentation to a panel of professionals. Students are asked the reasoning behind the choices they made,their inquiry process,what they learned etc. The advantage is that it   ups the stakes for students, leading them to do higher quality work. The proud moment when students present their work to the “real world” is often a memory they  keep for the rest of their lives.

Ultimately a project should give students opportunities to build such 21st century skills as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and the use of technology, which will help them  in the workplace and life. Collaboration is central to the project wherein students usually work in teams of three or four and plan what tasks they would do and how they would work together. To boost collaborative skills, teachers can use role-playing and team-building activities. Students practice oral presentation skills and learn to produce videos and podcasts. While writing journals, students reflect on their thinking and problem-solving processes, which is needed to explain in their oral presentation. A teacher in a project-based learning environment explicitly teaches and assesses these skills and provides frequent opportunities for students to assess themselves. 

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