Initial Thoughts on Project Based Learning


This week has been a whirlwind introduction to project based learning. I have been interested in the topic for some time because of the extreme creativity of the instruction that goes along with PBL as well as the stories of impressive outcomes. Though I have never taught a PBL unit or created a training for teachers on PBL, I have always remained interested and curious about the process. Designing a  PBL unit or training has just seemed like a big, scary audacious goal to tackle on my own.

In this first week of study, I really tried to delve into the research on outcomes and was surprised to discover that there is not much of a body of literature on the topic. What I did find were a few case study-like articles and stories where project based learning has been adopted as part of a cultural approach. For at risk or struggling students, this instructional approach seems to have a positive influence on their academic and personal performance. Regardless of research on outcomes, PBL seems to have important benefits for students in terms of skills. The capacity to make decisions, conduct research, work in cooperative groups, and think independently are all skills students must have to succeed in the workplace.

There are only two elements that I cannot reconcile yet with PBL. First, I am a bit uncomfortable with the requirement that projects are somehow presented or shared publicly. This is not always a practical option in the classroom – especially in a small rural community with little technology resources. My second concern involves the coverage versus depth issue that always plagues discussions on curriculum and instruction. PBL is a great way to get depth in a history course. That being said, many state and institutional standards have coverage requirements. This is especially troubling in history where major eras, events, people, and dates are crucial for student understanding at a foundational level before any real depth can be achieved. I’ll be considering both of these issues in more depth as we continue along in the course.


Boaler, J. (2002). Learning from teaching: Exploring the relationship between reform curriculum and equity. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 33(4), 239-258.

Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt. (1992). The Jasper Series as an example of anchored instruction: Theory, program description, and assessment data. Educational Psychologist, 27(3), 291-315.

Creghan, C., & Adair-Creghan, K. (2015). The positive impact of project-based learning on attendance of an economically disadvantaged student population: A multiyear study. Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-Based Learning, 9(2). Retrieved from

David, J. L. (2008). What research says about…Project-based learning. Educational Leadership, 65(5), 80-82. Retrieved from

Heitin, L. (2012). Project-based learning helps at-risk students. Education Week, 31(29), 8-9. Retrieved from


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