New Pedagogy

Project Based Learning:An Innovative Pedagogical Tool

As educators we often think about how to challenge our students and get them excited about learning .How to inspire them to think out of box and solve problems creatively? How do we  show ,that ,what they learn has real world application? Project based learning or PBL can be our answer  to all the above .The National Education Policy 2020 of India,also talks about pedagogy for students that is inquiry driven,learner centred ,discussion based and enjoyable. PBL fulfills the requirement.

What is Project Based Learning ?

Project based learning(PBL) is a student centred pedagogy that involves a dynamic classroom approach. It requires students working on a project for an extended period of time, actively exploring real world challenges and  problems,leading to acquisition of deeper content knowledge and skills. PBL integrates knowing and doing .Students not only learn elements of core curriculum but also apply what they know to solve authentic problems .PBL refocuses education on students.

The core idea of PBL begins with an open ended , driving question or challenge that captures students interest and provokes serious thinking. A typical project presents a problem to solve, e.g. how can we use data to reduce our family impact on environment ? Or How  waste in local waterways contributes to the problem of plastic in the ocean?These are open ended problems with no one right answer. It is important that the driving question should have real world application.It should  initiate a  inquiry process, wherein, students apply the learned knowledge ,ask and answer critical thinking questions and locate resources. The students have a voice and choice in the whole learning process. PBL allows students to make the project available to the public.For e.g. students in science class may create a sustainable redesign for public places in the city and present it to the city officials rather than simply learning from text book and presenting in class.

Origin of Project Based Learning

PBL may sound new, but its roots goes back to the times of Aristotle and Socrates who modeled how to learn through questioning, inquiry, and critical thinking; all strategies that are relevant in today’s PBL classroom. Fast forward  to 20th century  ,John Dewey,an American educational theorist and philosopher, is recognized a s one of the early proponents of Project Based education through his idea  of “learning by doing”. He challenged the traditional view of students as being passive recipient of knowledge .He argued for active experimentation that prepares students for ongoing learning about a dynamic world .PBL is also related to Jean Piaget, a swiss developmental psychologist, through his  “situated learning“ perspective. His insights laid the foundation for the “constructivist approach’ to education  in which students build on what they know by asking questions ,investigating ,interacting with others and reflecting on these experiences.PBL ,as a pedagogy,later drew from Perception-based theories on education proposed by theorists such a Maria Montessori and William Kilpatrick .Today it is one of the key pedagogy required to learn 21st c skills.

Why PBL ?

Body of research has shown that PBL leads to deeper learning  of concepts and greater retention of content knowledge .Students are better able to apply what they know to new situation. Research by Zhang Morris& Anderson 2016 comparing PBL with Direct instruction showed that PBL students demonstrated far better decision-making skills than either the direct Instruction or the control group students. PBL students considered more than one side of a dilemma, used more comprehensive reasoning, and more frequently evaluated the importance of the assumptions underlying their decision making.  Research in Michigan 2017 on project-based learning in high-poverty communities showed that it can produce statistically significant gains in social studies and informational reading. Best part is that it increases student engagement as they enjoy working on the projects and solve problems that are relevant to them and community.

With PBL students gain 21st c skills valued in today’s workplace and life . Projects are often assigned in groups .Being able to work collaboratively with others is an important work skill. Projects involve discussion and are often assessed through presentation which helps develop communication skills. Students also learn to take initiative ,think critically and solve problems creatively.

Good project can be transformative .When students see real world impact of their work it gives them a sense of purpose. PBL also promotes Creativity and use of technology as students use spectrum of technological tools from conducting research to creation and presentation .Teachers  work closely with students doing meaningful work leading to greater satisfaction and rewarding relationship.

To sum it up PBL has enormous potential to better prepare students for the work force they will be entering while helping them to remember and enjoy the learning a lot more on the way.

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 ie 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

How to Use Spaced Learning in Class ?


Has it ever happened to you, when you wanted to remember something but despite repeated efforts , you were not able to locate it in your brain? The problem was with the retrieval of the information. Spaced learning is a new teaching and learning strategy, based on scientific research in neuroscience, wherein repeated stimulation of the same neural pathway of the brain makes it easier to locate and access the information stored within it. Spaced learning creates neural pathways at the start of a learning unit, which are then revisited at various intervals over time. It consists of condensing the learning content and repeating it three times , separated by two 10 minutes breaks in between, during which distracter activities (e.g.physical activities) are performed by the students.  Spaced learning has potential to help students with recall in examinations .It also has potential for enabling enquiry-based learning (EBL) and project-based learning (PBL). The distinctive features of this method are: the speed of instruction being minutes (as opposed to hours, days or months), the spaces and their function, and repetition of the content three times.

Origin of Spaced learning method

Spaced Learning is based on a discovery about how brain creates memory through temporal pattern of stimuli, as reported by R. Douglas Fields (2005) in Scientific American.Interestingly, his discovery showed that the length of stimulation was not vital, but the gap between stimulations was. This insight formed the basis of Spaced Learning .Paul Kelly ,a British neuroscientists and educator, built on the idea of Spaced Learning to create a  learning method to enhance knowledge retention and creating long-term memories (Making Minds , 2008). Work by German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, in the late 1800s on memory and forgetting has also contributed to the development of this method.  Years of research on this approach to learning has been done on different species and has been published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, which gives it a very scientific base. Further research and findings in Educational neuroscience, an emerging scientific field that explore the interactions between biological processes and education gives considerable weight to the use of spaced learning method in education.

The structure of a Spaced Learning lesson in class

A Spaced Learning lesson consists of three ‘inputs.” The structure of the three inputs session is; Presentation, Recall, Understanding. Each input is separated by two 10-minute gaps as follows ;

  • First input of  teacher presentation of  information
  • 10-minute break
  • Second input of Student recall of information
  • 10-minute break
  • Third input of Student application of information

The first input is the presentation of the information by the teacher. It is usually in the form of a lecture wherein, the teacher presents key facts and information, usually by a PowerPoint presentation. Though there are no time restrictions, the length of this input is usually 10–15 minutes ,keeping in mind the attention span of the students. Neural pathways are created and start the process of creating memories in this session.

The second input focuses on recalling information .The teacher revisits the content presented in the first session to stimulate the  same neural pathways .To make it interactive, one can vary the way the content is presented. E.g Students may be presented with information which has missing key words or they might solve simple problems using the formulae presented in the first input. This would allow the students to remember/recall information learned in the first session.

The third input focuses on understanding. Tasks given to the students in this session  involve application of knowledge or skills they have just acquired. In this session, the teacher gives the students activity that requires them to use and apply the content from the first input to demonstrate their understanding of it .

The three inputs are separated by two ‘breaks’ where students do ‘distractor’ activities. Theses breaks are of 10 minutes each. Why 10 minutes? Because this is time that the pathway needs to be ‘rested’ before the next stimulation. This is required  to strengthen the neural pathways recording the information learnt in the  session .During these breaks, it is also important to avoid stimulating the same memory pathways that are being formed. Thus, the activity should be very different from what the students are learning. The most effective way of doing this is to carry out physical activities that use parts of the brain requiring balance and movement, which are not being used during the learning in the lesson. One can also use activities like clay modeling ,games, sports ,aerobics etc.While deciding on activities it is important to remember that the activities should be as different from the presentation as possible; they should be varied; and they should last about 10 minutes.

Thus this process of rapid structured repetition, separated by short breaks, embeds the information in the long term memory.

Body of ongoing research in the area of Educational neuroscience  provide a very scientific base to this new method of teaching and learning. Spaced Learning works with students of any age. According to Harvard magazine rigorous studies on medical students and residents using randomized trials have shown its efficacy: it can increase knowledge by up to 50 percent, and strengthen retention for up to two years. Furthermore, students report enjoying spaced education; even calls it “addictive.”  If this technique is adopted by schools it could change education forever!