The Benefits of Project-Based Learning
Project-based learning is a learning process that aims to make the student take the initiative in their own education. They achieve this through practical experiences that are developed in class.
Project-based learning, far from being a modern methodology, has been around for more than a century. The student takes the leading role in their own education, and the verified results are very positive. But why don’t we apply it in the classroom? What are the benefits of project-based learning?
That’s a difficult question to answer. However, in this article, we don’t intend to compare the traditional teaching system with a collaborative one based on projects. What we will look at, though, are the benefits of project-based learning, along with its potential weaknesses.
In 1918, William Heard Kilpatrick, an American educator, proposed the idea of project-based learning (PBL). In it, the student takes the initiative in their education, and the teacher is an advisor throughout the process. It’s a methodology which reverses the classroom roles. The teacher is no longer the speaker and the student is no longer a passive “receiver of information.”
To carry out project-based learning, the activity must be developed bearing in mind a number of factors and characteristics:
- The curriculum contents are addressed using classroom projects.
- The teacher shares the topics that they’ll develop, but doesn’t develop the content.
- The student, guided by the teacher, creates a project related to the subject.
- The teacher listens to, organizes, and corrects the ideas presented by the student in the project.
Undertaking project-based teaching is not an easy task for teachers. Among other things, it means they have to leave their comfort zone, in which they would normally enter the classroom, teach the subject, and the students will take notes.
With this methodology the student has a say in his or her own education.
We’re not saying here that the teacher has to stop teaching, or that the student is solely responsible for his or her education. On the contrary, the learning process should be collaborative and participatory on both sides.
A logical process
At first sight, it may not seem that this formula will be able to give us the results we expect. That’s why we need to follow a logical order when we carry out project-based learning, and this will certainly start to transform the classes in the way that we propose.
- Brainstorming to start off a topic. It’s important to listen carefully to what our students’ interests are.
- Selecting work groups. It’s a good idea to form groups with children of different abilities.
Start the research: We must be aware that there’s a lot of material available online; we must help our students to evaluate and choose well.
- Timing. We must focus on the subject and set times to collect the material, prepare it, and then present it. If not, the project will be too long.
- Presentation. The class (in groups or individually) will give a measured summary of the material collected. It’s important to pay attention to possible questions and new approaches.
- Evaluation. At the end of the process, we need to evaluate not only what our students have learned, but also their evolution throughout the whole process. In this sense, it’s very much a continuous evaluation.
- Making it known. Good work must be shared and made known. Having a class blog is a nice way to show families all the efforts the students have made, and to involve them in their children’s education.
As we mentioned in our introduction, our idea is to analyze the benefits of project-based learning and its potential disadvantages. Educators like Maria Montessori or pedagogues like Dewey already applied it in the middle of the last century and, thankfully, wrote all their findings down for us.
Benefits of project-based learning
Students are more motivated by being able to be in charge of their own learning, which reinforces their self-esteem. In the words of Maria Montessori: “We must help them in their development, and help them to adapt to any situations that may come up as they work.”
It allows teachers to apply the key competencies that students need, in such a way that it makes sense to them. This is especially the case regarding children’s digital literacy, the usage of social networks, and accessing information responsibly.
Generally, students will carry out these projects in groups, and this encourages socialization in the classroom, responsibility in their work regarding themselves and their classmates, as well as them being able to critically evaluate their own work.
Last but not least, among the benefits of project-based learning is that it allows the teacher to pay particular attention to diversity in the classroom, and to teach and highlight tolerance and equality. All ideas and experiences are equally valid and each student should have a voice and be able to express themselves.
Disadvantages of project work
The lack of a curriculum adapted to this type of teaching, and the age of the teaching staff, makes certain sectors in teaching very reluctant to try to implement it in their classes, even just to see whether the experience improves their students’ academic performance.
Another major problem is that teachers who want to “jump on the bandwagon” of this type of classroom transformation often encounter many obstacles. Schools aren’t prepared for these sorts of changes. Neither are the distribution of work areas and the rigidity of schedules very conducive to this teaching methodology.
Teachers have many questions regarding project-based learning. “How should I form the work groups?” “What if I don’t manage to finish the curriculum?” “How do I evaluate my students without an exam?” These questions and some fears are based, perhaps, on teachers’ lack of training, and the lack of support from the school administration.
In any case, we’d like to encourage you to investigate a little more about the area of project-based methodology. Sometimes leaving our comfort zone and breaking the classroom routine can be rewarding and motivating.
“Education is the most powerful weapon to change the world.”
– Nelson Mandela –