of 8 /8
Accelerating Learning with Meaningful Project-Based Learning WHITE PAPER

Accelerating Learning with Meaningful Project-Based Learning

  • Author

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)

Text of Accelerating Learning with Meaningful Project-Based Learning

Layout 1Although educators have spent countless hours on
designing and enhancing online and hybrid
instruction to reach students who are attending
school remotely, the evidence suggests that many
students are still falling behind in their learning,
despite these efforts.
be difficult. Teachers need highly engaging
lessons that give students a compelling reason to
log on and learn remotely.
Project-based learning (PBL) offers a solution.
Research shows that when done well, PBL can be
an engaging, motivating, and highly effective
learning strategy that helps students understand
how lessons relate to real-world scenarios. PBL
also helps students learn content more deeply,
apply their knowledge to new situations, and
retain what they’ve learned much longer.
This white paper explores how PBL can engage
students in remote learning and help combat
learning loss during the pandemic, while also
continuing to serve students as a highly effective
learning strategy well after the threat from
COVID-19 is over.
learning platform for students in grades K-8 and
found that students learned only 67 percent of
the math and 87 percent of the reading their
grade-level peers typically would have learned
by the fall.1
the equivalent of three months of learning in math
and one-and-a-half months of learning in reading.
The learning loss was especially severe in schools
that serve mostly minority students, where scores
were 59 percent of the historical average in math
and 77 percent in reading.
Students learned only 67 percent of the math and
87 percent of the reading their grade-level peers typically
would have learned by the fall
challenge,” the report observes, and this challenge
is at least partly responsible for the learning loss
that students have experienced.
online math coursework decreased by 11 percent
in fall 2020 McKinsey says, compared with
participation before the pandemic. Among low-
income students, the drop was 16 percent—while
participation among students from wealthier
households declined by only 2 percent.
This drop in engagement tracks with what
teachers have said as well. Teachers in remote
learning environments have reported higher rates
of absenteeism and less completion of student
work this year than teachers in classrooms where
students have been learning in person.
Citing data from a RAND Corp. survey, Education
Week reports that attendance for in-person
learning environments was averaging 91 percent
as of October, and 82 percent of the students
learning in person had turned in all or most of their
work. For remote learning environments, the
average attendance rate was 84 percent, and only
62 percent of students turned in their work.2
Keeping students connected to their education
and to each other has been a key challenge
during the pandemic, agrees Candace Singh,
superintendent of the 5,000-student Fallbrook
Union Elementary School District in San Diego
County, California.
“Kids don’t learn as much if they’re not
connected,” Singh says. “This has been the
monumental struggle.”
How PBL Can Help PBL is an instructional strategy in which students
learn by actively engaging in real-world projects
that are personally meaningful to them. Students
work over an extended period of time on a project
that has them solve an authentic problem or
answer a complex question, and they demonstrate
their learning by creating a public product or
presenting to an actual audience.
In high-quality PBL, students work together on
projects in small groups. Not only are they
learning important content knowledge, but they’re
also learning the “four Cs,” skills that are
foundational for success in school and life:
communication, collaboration, creativity, and
way to learn. That’s always a benefit for
educators, but especially now when they’re
looking for strategies that can motivate students
who are learning remotely.
PBL as a pedagogical approach. Studies
comparing the learning outcomes for students
taught through project-based learning and those
taught using traditional methods show that high-
quality PBL increases students’ long-term retention
of content, helps them perform as well or better on
When implemented well, PBL is a very
engaging way to learn. That’s always a
benefit for educators, but especially now
when they’re looking for strategies that can
motivate students who are learning remotely.
www.DefinedLearning.com 4
and collaborative skills, and enhances their
engagement and attitude toward learning.3
A 2016 study from MIDA Learning Technologies
compared the performance of second and fifth
graders who were piloting PBL with classes using
the district’s traditional curriculum. The findings
were consistent with other existing research: In
both grades, the experimental group—which used
a PBL curriculum from Defined Learning—
outperformed the control group in math
achievement. In addition, teachers reported a
significantly greater level of student engagement
and motivation in the experimental classes.4
Why PBL Is More Engaging
Why is PBL so motivating for students? While there
are many contributing factors, here are two that
stand out in particular:
repeating it back, students are in control of their
education. They can choose the direction their
project will take, and they can often choose the
type of product they will create to demonstrate
what they have learned, such as a video, slide
show, or podcast.
learning is a very powerful motivator. In his book
Drive, best-selling author Dan Pink identifies
autonomy as one of three main drivers of human
motivation. When students are allowed to follow
their own interests and passions, they will take joy
in their work and become more invested in their
learning. As Pink writes: “Control leads to
compliance; autonomy leads to engagement.”
it must be relevant to their lives. They need to
understand how the knowledge and skills they’re
learning in class will help them succeed in the
future. In other words, teachers must answer that
age-old question: “Why do we have to learn this?”
A study funded by the Gates Foundation more
than a decade ago, called “The Silent Epidemic,”
they dropped out of high school. The top reason,
given by 47 percent of those surveyed, was that
classes weren’t interesting to them. “They make
you take classes in school that you’re never going
to use in life,” one respondent said. When the
researchers asked them about what educators
could do to make sure students stay in school, the
most common answer was making the content
more relevant to students’ lives.5
By using real-world scenarios as the basis for
projects, PBL helps students draw a clear
connection between what they’re learning and
how it applies outside of school. Having students
solve real problems for an authentic audience not
only makes the content come alive for students; it
also gives their work a larger purpose and
meaning, which further adds relevance to the task.
We all want to do work that matters. However,
completing a hypothetical problem for only the
teacher’s benefit doesn’t fit this description.
Instead of asking a student to calculate the
gravitational force in a certain situation, how much
more powerful a learning experience would it be if
students were to use this calculation in the context
of designing a piece of playground equipment that
their peers with physical disabilities could use?
According to Dan Pink, purpose is another key
driver of human motivation. He argues that when
people see a clear and compelling purpose for
what they’re doing, they’ll work harder and will
fully engage in a task.
Elementary School Success
instructional strategy to engage students in
deeper learning and make school more
meaningful for them.
pandemic, that became even more important,”
says Superintendent Candace Singh. “Students
have had to become far more independent in the
work they’ve done. Project-based learning is a
wonderful vehicle to give kids choices and support
their independence.”
disciplinary projects that tie together concepts
from multiple subject areas. These projects help
students understand how the subjects they’re
learning in school are interconnected, instead of
seeing them as discrete, unrelated topics. For
instance, a four-week project for fifth graders at
Fallbrook’s San Onofre School incorporated both
math and music.
purpose of having students answer the question:
“How are fractions used to create rhythms?” The
students researched different types of music and
applied this knowledge to create a composition
that they played during a public performance on a
drum they designed and built. Their teacher
partnered with a music instructor who came in and
taught the students how to read notes and
measures and keep a beat.
During the course of the project, students learned
about fractions in the context of music. They
learned how to add and subtract fractions, write
numerical expressions, and use equivalent
fractions. They also learned important research,
design, problem solving, and teamwork skills—and
they had fun in the process.
Having students solve real problems
for an authentic audience not only
makes the content come alive for
students; it also gives their work a
larger purpose and meaning, which
further adds relevance to the task.
enthusiasm of her students was like nothing she’d
experienced before. She never had a class so
eager to learn. She also found that her students
were quickly able to transfer the skills they
learned in this project, so the fraction lesson was a
cinch. Her students aced the lesson.”
PBL can be implemented equally well in person or
in remote learning environments. When Fallbrook
schools were completely remote, projects that
involved making a physical object had to be
completed independently, Singh says, but there
are many tools that allow students to collaborate
virtually on documents, videos, slide shows,
podcasts, and other digital files.
PBL can be challenging for teachers to implement
at first if they’ve never done so before. “Supporting
teachers in changing their practice is so critical,”
Singh says. “As leaders, we need to provide clear
expectations about what we’re working toward,
and we have to support our teachers with
resources. For instance, teachers need time for
collaboration and planning across disciplines.”
Fallbrook has full-time instructional coaches who
help teachers design and implement high-quality
authentic learning tasks. The district also uses
ready-made PBL curriculum resources from
Defined Learning, which takes the heavy lifting off
of teachers’ shoulders.
Talladega County Schools, a 7,100-student school
system in Alabama, has been using PBL as an
instructional strategy for more than a decade,
beginning with a pilot high school. When officials
saw the results at this school, they implemented
PBL district-wide.
entire school culture. For instance, students
became more independent learners. They also
became more collaborative, more confident, and
better prepared for success.
life after high school,” says Superintendent
Suzanne Lacey. “From project planning through
implementation to presentation, they learn how to
work with their peers and talk through solutions to
problems. This emulates what they will experience
when they’re out in the world of work.”
This sense of confidence and independence has
served students well during the pandemic. Like
most school systems across the U.S., Talladega
County shifted to remote learning to finish out the
independent learners often tend to struggle—but
for the most part, that hasn’t happened in
Talladega County.
with the previous year’s scores and engagement
remains high. Lacey attributes this, in part, to the
district’s use of PBL.
While the pandemic has limited the types of
projects that students can do collaboratively, PBL
has continued to play an important role within the
budgeting and money. They’re using the
Engineering Design Process by creating an
interactive budgeting sheet to educate the
community on ways to save money and budget
more effectively to benefit their families. In another
project, eighth graders who read Suzanne Collins’
novel The Hunger Games created tribute
interviews for each district within Collins’
dystopian society.
complete research on the novel, write creatively,
and use editing techniques to create a video for
the school community,” says Emily Harris,
coordinator of instruction for the district.
Keeping Students Connected
and Talladega County have seen attendance and
engagement remain high as a result of teachers’
use of PBL—and these trends are likely to continue
long after the threat from COVID-19 is over.
“Project-based learning has given our kids a
reason to open their laptops every day and remain
engaged in school,” Singh concludes. “It’s helping
students stay personally connected with the
content and with each other—and it has been a
key reason they have stuck with us through the
About Defined Learning
Defined Learning is an online project-based learning solution that provides K-12 teachers with the tools
they need to implement high-quality PBL; a library of standards-aligned performance tasks, career
videos, research resources, and more. Our engaging projects are based on real-world situations in STEM
careers to give students the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills to real-world challenges.
Defined Learning creates excitement about careers and empowers students to build the critical skills they
need to succeed in college, careers, and life.
To learn more, visit www.definedlearning.com.
www.DefinedLearning.com 8
2 Schwartz, Sarah. “Survey: Teachers and Students Are Struggling With Online Learning.” Education Week, Nov. 16, 2020. https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/survey-teachers-and-students-are-struggling-with-online-learning/2020/11
3 Yew, Elaine H.J., and Goh, Karen. “Problem-Based Learning: An Overview of its Process and Impact on Learning.” Health Professions Education, Vol. 2, Issue 2, Dec. 2016. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2452301116300062
4 Speziale, Kerry. “Study Confirms Project Based Learning Has a Positive Impact on How Students Learn Science and Math.” https://blog.definedlearning.com/blog/project-based-learning-research
5 Bridgeland, John, et al. The Silent Epidemic: Perspectives of High School Dropouts. Civic Enterprises (on behalf of the Gates Foundation), 2006. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED513444.pdf