What is Project-Based Learning?
Project-Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a culturally relevant, authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge. Project-Based Learning includes opportunities for students to grapple with and challenge systems of inequity and propose solutions for change.
In a project-based unit, students are engaged in solving a real-world problem that includes a motivating kickoff experience, relevant and inspiring guiding questions, meaningful fieldwork, and a culminating event where students share their projects with an authentic audience. During these presentations of learning, students apply their learning rather than just restate their work — particularly when presentations are grounded in service, social activism or advocacy.
Project-based units run from two weeks to a semester. All projects explicitly focus on building literacy skills, particularly in reading and writing nonfiction text and writing from evidence.
How Do we Support Project-Based Learning in Schools?
We support project-based learning through a series of professional learning workshops and direct teacher and team coaching. Schools choose from one or more project-based learning strands which are customized to meet the individual goals of each school.
Our staff work with leadership and teachers to help them implement specific project-based learning practices that prepare students to create meaningful, authentic, standards-aligned projects. We encourage teacher teams to work together to plan curriculum, share knowledge, test tools and brainstorm solutions to ensure equity of voice.
Sample Teacher Learning Targets
- I can design a unit or curriculum that promotes deep learning and engagement and brings the state learning standards to life.
- I can design a product rich in authenticity and complexity that will require students to read for and write with evidence.
- I can identify strategies for creating a respectful and supportive culture for critique and feedback.
- I can determine how to support students in sharing their learning with an authentic audience.
- I can design daily lessons that put students at the center of their own learning.
- A needs assessment, including a learning walk and curriculum review
- A “Project-Based Learning 101” professional development sequence to introduce the concept and purpose of project-based learning and the selected focus areas to all staff
- “Core Learning Experiences,” including professional learning workshops around one or more Project-based Learning Strands, individual and group coaching sessions, classroom observations, and leadership meetings
- A half day of staff team building activities
- Half-day planning session for an end-of-year celebration of learning
Project-based learning is the tool that NYC Outward Bound Schools educators leaned on during virtual learning. Now, as we return to in-person learning, PBL can help create more equitable and engaged classrooms of students.
Project-Based Learning Strands
Designing Project-Based Learning Units and Curricula
- Creating challenging case studies and learning expeditions
- Choosing compelling topics and creating guiding questions
- Backward planning using standards, targets and assessments
Lessons that Support Project-Based Learning
- Creating daily lessons to engage and support students
- Using protocols to create a student-centered classroom
- Designing lessons that allow students to give each other meaningful feedback
Scaffolding for High-Quality Work
- Providing opportunities for students to engage with authentic audiences during final product presentations
- Creating rubrics that support purposeful student learning
- Designing units that result in actionable work-products and empowering students to take action