A Project-Based Learning Activity About Project-Based Learning
What Is Project-Based Learning?
Students engaged in project-based learning (PBL) activities "work in groups to solve challenging problems that are authentic,
curriculum-based, and often interdisciplinary" (McGrath, 2003). Project-based learning is a component of an inquiry-based approach to learning. In this approach, students create
knowledge and understanding through learning activities built around intellectual inquiry and a high degree of engagement
with meaningful tasks. Within the context of this inquiry-based approach, projects take the role traditionally afforded to
assessments such as tests and quizzes. Projects are designed to allow students with a variety of different learning styles
to demonstrate their acquired knowledge. Therefore, a well designed project-based learning activity is one which addresses
different student learning styles and which does not assume that all students can demonstrate their knowledge in a single,
A classic project-based learning activity usually involves 4 basic elements: (1) an extended time frame;
(2) collaboration; (3) inquiry, investigation, and research; and finally, (4) the construction
of an artifact or performance of a consequential task. Within this basic framework, students and teachers can adapt
activities to showcase and assess understanding.
That's certainly the theory, but it is quite reasonable to ask what exactly constitutes a good PBL activity? What
does it feel like to do one as a teacher or a student? How can you, as a classroom teacher, identify a particularly good PBL
activity for your students?
Through the following task, you will explore project-based learning from the perspective of how such activities support
different student learning styles. You will investigate several different sample projects -- appropriate for a range of grade
levels and subject areas -- and consider the feasibility of implementing such units with your students. After this exploration,
you will be in a good position to begin developing your own activities.
In this activity, you will critically analyze a number of PBL examples and prepare to discuss them from multiple perspectives.
By the end of this exercise, you will have gathered sufficient information to answer the following questions:
- What elements of this project would be worth doing
with your students? Why?
- What elements of this project would be difficult to implement with your students? Why?
Step 1 -- Print a copy of the Grades K - 5 or Grades 6 - 12 (appropriate to your grade level) worksheet.
Step 2 -- Examine the learning styles chart below. Then choose the style that either most closely matches your own, or that which would be most representative
of the students you currently teach.
SPATIAL /VISUAL LEARNER
Needs and likes to visualize things; learns through images; enjoys art and drawing; reads maps,
charts and diagrams well; fascinated with machines and inventions; plays with Legos; likes mazes and puzzles.
Examples of motivating tasks to you include/but are not confined to the following: Using board games and memory devices to create visual patterns. Visual elements in reading. Visualization
of story and scenes at intervals, Writing via colored pens, computers, drawing, with multimedia tools.
Thinks in words, verbalizes concepts; spins tales and jokes; spells words accurately and easily.
Can be a good reader or prefer the spoken word more; has excellent memory for names, dates and trivia; likes word games; enjoys
using tape recorders and often musically talented.
Examples of motivating tasks to you include/but are not confined to the following: Creation of own word problems, stories, presenting aloud, putting together taped sessions for later
playback, creating songs and poetry
Processes knowledge through physical sensations; highly active, not able to sit still long;
communicates with body language and gestures. Shows you rather than tells you; needs to touch and feel world; good at mimicking
others; likes scary amusement rides; naturally athletic and enjoys sports.
Examples of motivating tasks to you include/but are not confined to the following: Any task involving physical
action such as nature walks, gathering data, hands-on activities and experiments, art projects, or acting out stories.
Thinks conceptually, likes to explore patterns and relationships; enjoys puzzles and seeing how things work; constantly
questions and wonders; capable of highly abstract forms of logical thinking at early age; computes math problems quickly;
enjoys strategy games, computers and experiments with purpose; creates own designs to build with blocks/Legos.
Examples of motivating tasks to you include/but are not confined to the following: Performing
science experiments, recording and analyzing results, Using computer learning games and word puzzles, Examining relation of
story to real-life situations and people.
Step 3 -- Having chosen an appropriate learning style, critically analyze PBL projects (appropriate to
your approximate grade level) listed below based on this perspective. Use the worksheet you downloaded/printed to note particular
features of each project that address elements of your chosen learning style. You don't need to spend too much time (no more
than 10 minutes) on any one site.
Grade K-5 Examples
Grade 6-12 Examples
Next Steps -- Using Your Knowledge
Bring your completed worksheets to the March 14, 2003 professional development session. At this session, discuss the examined
projects through the lens of varied student learning styles. In these groups, it will be possible to compare notes on the
full range of different learning styles and how various units can address more than one style. All of this will come down
to a discussion about how the projects -- and indeed PBL as a basic strategy -- can be a powerful tool for differentiated
In addition to the actual projects to review, there are several good online resources that provide information on selecting
and designing project-based learning units. You may choose to review several of these resources now, and we will discuss these
further on the 14th.