Project Based Learning or PBL

Project based learning is an child-led learning philosophy that covers multiple subjects, is based on a real life scenario and is based in problem solving. Each project generally has a initial problem that needs to be solved and concludes with a finished project. It’s a fantastic way to teach necessary skills and concepts in an engaging format, without tests or siloed subjects and more closely mirrors the real life skills that expand beyond a standard school setting. To explore project based learning (PBL) more closely, we can dive into the five main elements that make up a project based learning program as well as some examples to get you started!

project based learning vs traditional teaching method infographic

Child Led: Project Based Learning Focus

The child should take the lead in a project based learning environment. Typically, I will provide scaffolding around a project based on what my children are interested in at any given time. If this is for a broader group of students, they can choose a subtype of whatever topic you are focusing your project on. This may be a restaurant, a concert, a type of vehicle, etc. where the student choose a subcategory as the focus of their project. Basing the project around their interests and allowing the student the ability to integrate their ideas into the subject will create a deeper level of engagement.

Multiple Subjects

A traditional teaching environment is very siloed, but we all know that real life does not operate in 30 minutes periods of knowledge, rather all of the knowledge that students acquire during schooling is meant to be integrated and meshed into a vat of knowledge they can draw from in any given situation. Project based learning reflects this, and more naturally mirrors real life problem solving integrating everything from geometry to writing, reading and researching along with science and history to gather a significant amount of information that will allow them to solve a problem or create a plan that supports their initial idea.

Real Life Scenario

Project based learning is focused around a real life scenario like building a restaurant or putting on a concert. It does incorporate some level of scaffolding and worksheets, but this is not the main focus and questions are more open ended, where children are figuring out both the questions and answers to those questions. They become both the teacher and student as they research a topic and become an ambassador for that topic, which is empowering and develops a deeper level of interest in obtaining and retaining knowledge.

Problem Solving

This is where critical thinking comes into play; a topic that is generally overlooked or brushed over in a traditional learning environment. Problem solving is the basis of project based learning and a skill that can be transferred into everyday life beyond a classroom setting. Project based learning is centered around a problem that the students create and then solve.

PBL: Final Product

As opposed to testing, project based learning concludes with the presentation of a final product and the sharing of knowledge obtained during the process. This can come in many forms, but generally touches on a variety of subjects centered around a common idea with an initial problem and final resolution, showing the steps the student took to come to the final conclusion.

Project based learning can take on many forms

If you’re interested in examples of project based learning curriculum, Menu Math is a fantastic starting point, as is this project based learning music program that we are currently working our way through. It’s a great way to bring joy and genuine interest back to education and to instill a love of learning and the incredibly important critical thinking skills that much of today’s curriculum lacks and that can be incorporated at any age and catered to all grade levels. There is also a great video at Edutopia if you’re looking for further information on integrating project based learning into your curriculum.


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