A Quick Look at Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning

According to Jane David (2008) project based learning is intended to engage students in the process of realistic and thought provoking problem solving. As David states, “real-world problems capture student’s interest and provoke serious thinking as the students acquire and apply new knowledge in a problem solving context” (p. 80). However, as Larmer and Mergendoller (2010) caution, there are projects that can border on busy work and fail to meaningfully engage the mind of the student. Because of this truth Project Based Learning (PbL) must be approached carefully and with focused planning by the teacher.

In addition, the educator must be aware of the time demands that PbL can involve, especially as it relates to the context of high stakes and standards driven education. (David, 2008). These difficulties can rapidly discourage a teacher’s attempts at employing PbL if the educator is not prepared for the demands and aware of the struggles. For some it might seem easier to simply stick to the bare-bones curriculum and not attempt PbL.

The teacher who would avoid PbL as part of the education process for these reasons, however, misses out on a tremendous resource that, when used effectively can motivate and encourage learning (Blumenfeld, Soloway, Marx, Krajcik, Guzdial, & Palincsar, 1991). These writers argue, “there is considerable promise in the notion of project-based education to enhance motivation and thought as students attempt to learn in classrooms” (p. 392). At a time when teacher find themselves fighting for student attention and effort against so many extra-curricular and outside influences, a sustained and meaningful project holds the promise of engaging and enriching the knowledge of the students. According to the February 2004 article, Project Based Learning in Technology and Learning (2004), meaningful PbL can help students prepare to think critically, solve problems, collaborate, and present information.

Seven Essentials for Project Based Learning

Since PbL offers such an significant and powerful tool to educators it is important to be effective and relevant in planning and assigning projects. Larmer and Mergendoller (2010) offer seven essentials for PbL that educators should keep in mind.

· Need to Know. Cultivate interest with an “entry event” that engages interest and initiates questioning. Many students find schoolwork to be pointless when there is no personal need to know the information. Introduce the project in an engaging and captivating way.

· A Driving Question. An open-ended question that gives students a sense of purpose and challenge. This is similar to a thesis statement for an essay and helps set a framework for the student’s efforts.

· Student Voice and Choice. The teacher approaches the project with a goal in mind, but for the students to fully engage they need to be involved and invested in the process of determining the project they will work on.

· 21st Century Skills. Larmer and Mergendoller (2010) state that “a project should give students opportunities to build such 21st century skills as collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and the use of technology” (p. 36). These are skills that will be useful in further educational pursuits as well as later employment.

· Inquiry and Innovation. Effective projects are built and based on the questions that students ask themselves and others. As they seek information through research, interviews, and interactions with others they information becomes embedded not only in the project, but in the student’s cognitive process as well.

· Feedback and Revision. Helping students learn the process of developing rough drafts, procedures of review, and being able to accept and respond to constructive criticism will build skill and knowledge in the students.

· Publicly Present the Project. Without an opportunity to share their hard work with classmates and teachers students will begin to believe that their work doesn’t matter for anything more than a grade. However, by presenting their projects they have greater investment, and in the end more pride as well. In addition, a presentation provides an opportunity for assessment not only of the elements in the project itself but of the material the student has learned through the experience.

Project Based Learning and a Unit on Weather

For a course unit on weather systems a teacher might assign a PowerPoint slide show about a weather story from history. For example, a student might produce a visual presentation on the now infamous Hurricane Sandy that effect areas throughout the northeast and New England. A student or small group of students could research the storm from beginning to end and its effects through the course of its life. The presentation should reflect student research and understanding of the weather event. A project like this would also lend itself to interviews and inquiries with people on the personal impact of the storm.


As research demonstrates and experience shows, PbL can provide and effective and engaging element in education. It provides students with the opportunity to invest themselves in the process of investigation and inquiry as well as providing opportunity to utilize technology, an element that most students readily employ. It does, however, require thought and planning on the part of the teacher to assure that such projects are relevant and significant for the students and won’t be viewed as “busy-work.” As students produce displays, slide shows, videos, models, and other projects and present them to audiences such as classes, science fairs, parent nights, or other opportunities, the rewards both in terms of pride as wells as academics are readily visible.


Blumenfeld, P. C., Soloway, E., Marx, R. W., Krajcik, J. S., Guzdial, M., & Palincsar, A.


Motivating Project-Based Learning: Sustaining the Doing, Supporting the

Learning.Educational Psychologist, 26(3/4), 369.

David, J. L. (2008). Project-Based Learning. Educational Leadership, 65(5), 80-82.

Larmer, J., & Mergendoller, J. R. (2010). 7 Essentials for Project-Based

Learning. Educational Leadership, 68(1), 34-37.

Project based learning. (2004, February). Technology & Learning, 24(7), S1. Retrieved

from http://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA113896286&v=2.1&u=vic_liberty&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w


Dave “Big D” Bentley is a graduate student at Liberty   University in Lynchburg, VA working toward a Master of Arts in Teaching.  In addition he is a church planting pastor and has been in ministry for over 20 years.  He is married and has two grown children and two grand children.  In education as well as in ministry Bentley’s goal is to be the best he can be at what he is doing so he can bring the best out of those he is working with.  He lives and serves in Springfield, Vermont.


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