#31 – Digging Deeper Into Project-Based Learning

Unpacking Education March 17, 2021 26 min

As teachers, a metaphor that often resonates with us is the teacher as gardener. While we can’t force a plant to grow, we can water it, provide light, add any extra nutrients that are needed, and speak gently to it to encourage growth.  And sometimes, we need to support these young plants with a stake for a little while, until they’re strong enough to stand on their own. Project-based learning (PBL) is a nutrient-rich soil that provides ripe growing conditions for our students.

We’ve spent time exploring PBL during our last two episodes. Given PBL’s complexity and richness, we believe a closer look at three critical questions about PBL will help teachers as you consider implementation during distance or hybrid learning.

Below, you will find resources and tips shared during the podcast.

Paul Beckermann
PreK-12 Digital Learning Specialist
Rena Clark
Digital Learning Coach
Pamela Beckermann
PreK-12 Digital Learning Specialist

I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.


Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist


In this week’s episode, we discuss the following strategies and resources that are available on AVID Open Access for you to explore in more depth.

Increase Student Ownership of Learning With Project-Based Learning

You are already doing so many great things, but what if you could make some adjustments and engage students in authentic real-world problem-solving? Through PBL, students learn about and use 21st century skills—such as critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, communication, and creativity—to solve an authentic problem. In PBL, students deeply engage in writing, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading, and they are also able to apply what they have learned to their future careers and lives in a way that traditional learning does not allow.

3 Essential Questions to Unpack Project-Based Learning

In this week’s podcast, we dive deeper into PBL by addressing three critical questions:

  1. How is PBL different from a project?
  2. Why is PBL a good fit for distance learning?
  3. How has technology allowed us to transform PBL?
  • PBL vs. Project: Typically, a project is included at the end of a unit to demonstrate learning. Too often, teachers run out of time to do the project after the exam, and the parameters of the project don’t stretch students, instead being set up to be completed more as a recipe.

With PBL, the learning happens through the process of completing the project. There is a driving question or challenge that sustains students’ inquiry, and PBL includes an authentic audience for whom students solve real-world problems in a way that mirrors the learning process outside of the classroom.

  • PBL and Distance Learning: The silver lining of the pandemic is the opportunity for education to fundamentally change and no longer look like it did 100 years ago when we were educating students for the industrial workforce. One thing is clear from teachers around the world: They want to know how to increase student engagement in all environments, whether learning remotely, through a hybrid model, or face-to-face.
    • All the components of PBL can be done in remote- or hybrid-learning environments.
    • During a time when so many students are not feeling connected to others and their community, PBL allows them to create, feel connected, and be part of a solution to a problem that goes beyond themselves.
    • During a time when so many of us are feeling a little helpless and there are so many problems we can’t solve, PBL provides a way to be part of a solution.
  • PBL and Technology: Technology helps connect people, and it amplifies learning opportunities.
    • Technology connects students to authentic, outside resources. It is easier than ever before to connect with people who live and work in spaces outside of the school building/environment. Students have access to guest speakers, interviewees, virtual field trips, and so much more.
    • Technology connects students and teachers during remote learning. Students can work virtually in teams. Teachers can check in with students. In a hybrid-learning model, remote students can connect with students in class.
    • Technology amplifies opportunities for feedback. Formative feedback through PBL helps scaffold the learning process for students. Technology provides tools for asynchronous feedback, such as video, annotated documents, and audio.
    • Technology amplifies creation opportunities. There are so many more ways to create. Now, not only are there numerous options in terms of how students can solve problems with technology, but technology has also become an equalizer, as digital devices give all students access to free online tools.