by Matthew Worwood

Project-Based Learning (PBL) challenges students to collaborate in a team in order to solve a real world problem independent from the teacher. It has increased in popularity in recent years as part of the movement toward teaching 21st Century Skills.

Unlike traditional methods of instruction this student-centered strategy provides participants with an opportunity to learn from doing as opposed to merely memorizing the required knowledge for the test.

Below is a preview from my documentary, Creativity in Education: Exploring the Imbalance.

I have been working with Project-Based Learning since joining EDUCATION CONNECTION’s Center for 21st Century Skills in 2008, and still implement it today at the University of Connecticut. During this time I have worked with over 40 teachers in approximately 30 different high schools and experimented with some of my own models in recent years as part of my Digital Foundations class. I have learned a great deal about this instructional method and believe it provides one of the best environments for cultivating skills in creativity, but only when implemented correctly.

DF_PBL_Model (1)As part of my own practice, I have made efforts to incorporate some of the theory behind the Torrance Incubation Model of Teaching and Learning as well as Creative Problem-Solving strategies identified by Alex Osborn (who coined the term ‘Brainstorming). One of the greatest concerns I’ve experienced with high school teachers is the need to evaluate students, which can be seen as challenging when each one is working at their own pace toward an outcome different from the next. I have worked to solve this problem by incorporating subject content and student specific deliverables as part of weekly progress reports.

Another problem I’ve identified has been related to the time constraints of the academic year and a rush in the clarification and ideation stages of the problem-solving process. Too often I have witnessed teachers and students ‘brainstorm’ ideas for a few days (or maybe a week) and then move immediately into a disorganized development and implementation stage, which usually crashes and burns because of a lack of originality in the idea and commitment to the project.

Toward the end of my time at EDUCATION CONNECTION’s Center for 21st Century Skills, I worked hard to communicate the importance of spending sufficient time in the creation of a problem-statement. This process certainly takes longer than a week, and while it incorporates brainstorming strategies, it centers on research, the ability to produce and consider many alternatives, and thoroughly evaluating leading ideas prior to making a selection (as Cindy Burnett from the International Center for Studies in Creativity once told me – ‘don’t put a ring on it too quickly, you’re allowed to date other ideas’).

While I recognize a Project-Based Learning environment might be better suited to certain subjects and teachers, I believe it is something that can be incorporated by everyone with some support and structure. Resources should not be an excuse to implementing this model and I would be happy to assist you in the process if you have any questions. Please feel free to contact me via LinkedIn or Twitter.

Below are some excellent white papers on Project-Based Learning (I contributed to the first on the list).