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  • 1. Project-Based Learning1 Implementing Project-Based Learning in the ClassroomA Project Presented to the Faculty of the College of Education By: Kelly Hughes Touro University In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of the Degree of MASTERS OF ARTS In Educational Technology by Kelly Hughes May, 2010
  • 2. Project-Based Learning2 Abstract This project examines the benefits of implementing Project-BasedLearning (PBL) in the classroom. These benefits include greater student understanding oftopics, higher-level reading, and an increased motivation to learn. PBL is a key strategyin creating independent thinkers and learners, and, due to the key element of studentchoice, lends itself nicely to differentiation amongst student interest and abilities.Research supports PBL as an effective method to engage students in real-world tasks. Itdemonstrates to students how what they are learning in the classroom is applicable totheir lives outside of the classroom. Research on PBL also indicates that students who areengaged in project-based learning perform better on standardized tests than theirtraditionally educated peers.
  • 3. Project-Based Learning3 Chapter 1Introduction Project-based learning (PBL) is an innovative way to help children relate whatthey learn in school to their lives outside of the classroom. Unlike traditional learning,PBL is a student-driven, teacher-facilitated approach to learning. Through project-basedlearning, students drive their own learning through inquiry, as well as workcollaboratively to research and create projects that reflect their knowledge (Bell, 2010).Students select an area of interest and work collaboratively to research the topic, using asmany different types of information as possible. Using a competent model and a specificaudience, they then create a real-world product to share what they have learned (Diffily,2002). Rather than being prescribed by textbooks, the content and the processes oflearning in PBL are connected to the world outside of the classroom. Textbooks aren’tcompletely abandoned, but rather serve only as one resource for students in facilitatingtheir learning. PBL should not be looked at as a supplementary activity to supportlearning, but rather the basis of curriculum since most PBL encompasses all of the mainsubjects including reading, writing, mathematics, science, and social studies. As a result,the outcome of PBL is greater understanding of a topic, deeper learning, higher-levelreading, and increased motivation to learn (Bell, 2010). In project based learning (PBL) the role of the teacher and student are reversed.Teachers give up the role of a “dispenser of knowledge” and “answerer of all questions”.Instead, they serve as mentors, models, and facilitators to the students in their classes(Diffily, 2002). Teachers who implement PBL in their classrooms still remain “incharge”, they just use different teaching strategies than more traditional teachers.
  • 4. Project-Based Learning4Teachers implementing PBL use questioning strategies with all of their students. Insteadof directly answering a student’s question, a project teacher might respond, I wonder howyou might find the answer to that question? Or if you’ve already checked the books in theroom, what else could you do to find the answer? (Diffily, 2002). The role of students in a project-based classroom is also different than mosttraditional classrooms. Students assume the decision making role about their learninginstead of just following the directives of the teacher. Students work with their teacher toselect a topic for their project, and plan the activities and share their learning. Throughoutthe course of a project, students might take part in various different activities such asresearching through books, magazines, or Internet sites to find answers for theirquestions, interviewing people who they feel are experts on the topic, plan field trips, orany other number of activities. All of these decisions are made under the guidance andsupport of their teacher (Diffily, 2002). The active learning process that is implicit in PBL also takes into account thevarious learning styles and preferences of students. The element of student choice allowsstudents the ability to decide various aspects of their project, including the tools andresources they use in their research, how they want to demonstrate their learning in theirfinal product and the type of learning environment they would like to work in. A morereflective child might choose to demonstrate their learning in journal entries that will beshared with classmates, while a more analytical student might choose to demonstratetheir learning by creating timelines, graphs, and other visual representations to present totheir audience. Students who prefer a quiet working environment might choose to work inthe library, while other students who work better with more external activity might
  • 5. Project-Based Learning5choose to work in a busy classroom, or outdoor area. Children learn so much aboutthemselves when they are empowered to make their own decisions (Bell, 2010).Statement of the Problem: Linking what children learn in the classroom with things they learn and can applyoutside the classroom, is one of the primary objectives of Project-based learning. Unlikethe traditional classroom learning environment where the teacher drives the learning,PBL utilizes a more student-driven approach where the teacher is more of a facilitator. The traditional approach to teaching and learning doesn’t always work for allstudents. Oftentimes, students find it difficult to relate to what is being taught becausethere doesn’t appear to be a linkage to what’s going on in their world outside of theclassroom. This learning disconnect can lead to students being less motivated tounderstand and solve problems. Traditional teaching methods also focus on students working and learningindependently, rather than with other students. This lack of collaboration can result insome students feeling off on their own, reluctant to ask questions if they feel like they’refalling behind. They assume that all of the other students understand what is beingtaught, and therefore won’t take the risk of being embarrassed by raising their hand andasking what they fear might be perceived as a dumb question. A student’s ability to retain what they learn has long been an issue for schools.Some of this goes back to the problem students have relating what is being taught to otherthings in their life, but it also has something to do with the level of fun and excitementstudents experience in the classroom. The traditional lecture approach to teachingrequires the students to consistently focus all of their attention on the teacher, which in
  • 6. Project-Based Learning6some situations doesn’t lend itself to a fun and exciting learning experience. Lectureapproaches don’t lead to long-term retention. “Kids learn it for a week, then forget it.”(Mergendoller, J.R., Maxwell, N., & Bellisimo, Y. 2007) If the students aren’t enjoyingtheir learning experience, they’re less likely going to retain what they learn.Background and Need: The traditional teaching methods used in classrooms today have not proven to beeffective for some students. Issues that need to be addressed include the linkage ofwhat’s being taught by teachers, to what students are experiencing outside the classroom,a more collaborative approach to teaching that allows students to work and learn together,rather than independently, and improving the long-term retention of students by makingtheir learning experience more fun and exciting. The traditional teaching methods have also not proven to have a positive impacton standardized test scores and graduation rates. The National Assessment ofEducational Progress (NAEP) indicates that there has not been any significant change intest scores throughout the nation since 1971. At the same time, high school graduationrates continue to decline, and the current drop-out rate is over 20%. In 2007, 6.2 millionstudents dropped out of high school, and 1 of 5 high school students in Californiadropped out of school in 2008. In measuring the basic academic subject proficiency, standardized testing showsthat students engaged in project-based learning outscore their traditionally educated peers(Bell, 2010). This is partially due to the fact that students involved in PBL are solvingreal-world problems. They aren’t being given problems that only require that theymemorize rules or concepts in order to solve, they are applying their knowledge to
  • 7. Project-Based Learning7something more concrete; something that they will be able to use in their everyday lives.This gives students more of a sense of ownership of their learning, which in turnincreases their motivation to learn and perform well. In one British study, over the course of three years, students were taught usingtraditional math programs at one school, and PBL at another. Results of standardizedtesting indicated that three times as many PBL students achieved the highest possiblescore on the national exam than the students at the traditional schools (as stated byBoaler, 1999 in Bell, 2010). The study further indicated that PBL students were able toanswer the basic procedural problems using formulas as their traditionally taught peers,but were far superior in answering conceptual problems. In another study, eighth gradestudents in an inner-city, racially diverse school in Boston which implemented a PBLprogram, exhibited the second highest scores in the district on the Stanford 9 Open EndedReading Assessment (as stated by Thomas, 2000 in Bell, 2010). Project-based learning provides students with a powerful learning experience.Students feel a sense of pride and ownership of their learning and their projects and inturn push themselves to dive deeper into the subject matter. Because PBL is studentdirected, and connected with the “real world” outside of the classroom, students aremotivated to learn, and acquire a deeper and conceptual understanding of subject matter.PBL can not only be beneficial in increasing test scores, and motivating students, but italso serves to create a more well-rounded, and empowered student.Purpose of the Project: The purpose of this project is to introduce Project-Based Learning into a 4th gradeclassroom to determine the impact it has on the student’s learning. The baseline control
  • 8. Project-Based Learning8data will be the student’s past grades and test scores, and project conclusions will bebased on the changes in performance over the school year. As a relatively new elementary school teacher, I am passionate about identifyingand experimenting with new methods of teaching that have the potential of increasingstudent engagement, participation and self-confidence, and improving their overallperformance.The following issues/questions will be addressed throughout this project: • How receptive will the school be regarding this project and this new method of teaching? • How receptive will parents be of this project? What is the best way to communicate the project and project updates to them? • What will the student’s acceptance level be related to transitioning from a traditional learning environment to a Project-Based Learning environment? • What impact will PBL have on students who are currently struggling with the traditional teaching methods? What impact will it have on students who are currently realizing success in the traditional environment? • Other than test scores and grades, are there other metrics that can be used to effectively measure the success or failure of the project? • What are some of the lessons learned during the project and once the project is completed?Project Objectives:The objectives of this project include the following: • Create a handbook to infuse technology into the Interact Gold Rush teaching unit
  • 9. Project-Based Learning9 to include: o Project implementation process o Issues and Challenges o Project Controls o Project Results o Lessons Learned • Create an evaluation plan to: o Identify and document any challenges and obstacles related to the implementation of PBL in a 4th grade classroom. o Determine if some students prefer the PBL learning environment over the traditional method. Attempt to identify any common characteristics of those who prefer PBL. o Measure the effectiveness of the PBL process by tracking, trending and evaluating the performance metrics for each student during the project (specific milestones) and at the conclusion of the project.Definitions of Terms:Project-Based Learning – An innovative teaching method that can help students relatewhat they learn in school, to their lives outside of the classroom.Standardized Testing – Nationally approved tests to measure the aptitude of students atall levels in various subjects.
  • 10. Project-Based Learning10Stanford Open Ended Reading Assessment – These valuable open-ended assessmentsaddress important educational objectives best measured with student-constructedresponses.Performance Metrics – Data points used to determine the progress and performance (i.e.grades, test scores, etc.)Summary: Project-based learning is a successful approach to instruction for a variety ofreasons, its proponents say. For one thing, it helps students retain the information theylearn. Lecture approaches don’t lead to long-term retention, “Kids learn it for a week,then forget it.” (Mergendoller, J.R., Maxwell, N., & Bellisimo, Y. 2007). Another reasonproject-based learning is useful is because it engages students’ interest and motivatesthem to learn. One of the main reasons kids drop out of school is because they’re bored.With project-based learning, students are encouraged to explore their own interests and tomake connections to the world beyond school. “I can’t tell you how many times I haveheard, ‘Why am I learning this? This is a waste of time. What’s the point?’ Project-basedlearning gives you a way of answering those questions,” (Kantrov, as cited in Nastu,2009). Project-based learning also encourages a deeper level of thinking by involvingstudents in answering questions for themselves, making connections, and using analyticalskills. “When I’m doing project-based learning, I’m looking at taking the ‘whole’ apartand looking at the pieces. That’s problem-solving, the ability to analyze information byputting it together in a new way to solve the problem,” (Walkington, as cited in Nastu,2009) Walkington is the vice president of sales and marketing for Sebit LLC, whichproduces an online learning solution called Adaptive Curriculum. Adaptive Curriculum is
  • 11. Project-Based Learning11an interactive, web-based software product that allows students to conduct scientificexperiments, in realistically rendered surroundings, that are substitutes for actualexperiments when these might be dangerous in real life or when they require costlyequipment. The virtual experiments help students develop standards-based scientificinquiry skills. “In project-based learning, instead of answers being provided to students,[students] have to do experiments to come up with the solutions.” (Walkington, as citedin Nastu 2009) What’s more, project-based learning can help students develop the samekinds of 21st-century skills— such as problem solving, critical thinking, communication,collaboration, and creativity—that today’s employers covet. Tackling long-term, student-led projects can help students build real-world skills and knowledge.
  • 12. Project-Based Learning12 ReferencesBell, S. (2010). Project-Based Learning for the 21st Century: Skills for the Future. The Clearing House, 83, 39-43.Diffily, D. (2002). Project-Based Learning: Meeting social studies standards and the needs of gifted learners. Gifted Child Today, 25(3), 40-43, 59. Retrieved from ERIC databaseMergendoller, J.R., Maxwell, N., & Bellisimo, Y. (2007). The effectiveness of problem based instruction: A Comparative Study of Instructional Methods and Student Characteristics. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 1(2), 49- 69.Nastu, Jennifer. (2009). Project-based learning engages students, garners results. eSchool News Retrieved from