Project Based Learning vs. Projects, What Is The Difference?

In order to prepare our students for their future endeavors, the curriculum being delivered needs to be one that is interesting and engaging for each student. This requires a focus on high standards and meaningful assessments for all subjects, coupled with providing teachers with the tools that enable active, engaged learning by students. In order to fully engage our students, we need to provide for them the opportunity to take the knowledge shared with them by their teachers and put it to work. Statistically, it has been proven time and time again that students learn and retain content best when they are challenged to take what they are learning and put it into action. In my opinion, Project Based Learning is a model that takes complex tasks, based on Essential Questions, which involve students in design, problem solving, decision-making or investigative activities. What better way for a student to truly comprehend the content than to fully be immersed in it through Project Based Learning? It has been shown that the learning that occurs in the context of problem solving is more likely to be retained and applied than the traditional method of teaching and learning that has dominated the American educational system prior to the 21st century. Students today are looking for the real world connection between what they are learning in the classroom and how it relates to their world outside the classroom walls. To be able to bridge that gap with the student through investigative activities will help to validate the importance of the content for them, which will then increase retention of the material.

What I have learned throughout this process of heavily implementing PBL into my classroom is that when I thought I was doing PBL, I realize now that I was doing “projects”. Here’s the difference, in one simple sentence (although the concept is far from simple)…when you introduce a PBL activity for your students, you will have NO idea what the end result will be and what kind of work they will turn in to you. There are no rubrics & no expectations of student work until they turn it in to you. With Projects, we generally give them a plan, a rubric, a written expectation of what their final product will be. What I have found is that this boxes the students in to what you deem to be good work. It doesn’t allow for them to have the creativity that they need to really excel at solving these “problems”. Trust me when I say this is an uncomfortable feeling at first, the student has all the control and all the power, but what I have found over the years is that this freedom allows them to create work that I could never have imagined them capable of. When I don’t give them the parameters of my expectations, they truly soar, it’s amazing to witness.

Have a look at my Lesson Plans and Strategies pages for tried and true PBL that you are welcome to modify and implement or just have your students give them a shot.

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