A beginning to a DEEP dive into Project-Based Learning

This summer, all faculty and staff are involved in an in-depth study of Project-Based Learning. Though nothing new in the field of education, PBL has gained a lot more caché in the last several years as direct ties can be made to college and career readiness.

For us at Mount Vernon, we have had several amazing PBL experiences for our students and teachers along the way. Yet, we recognize that a schoolwide focus on building capacity, increasing our PBL toolkit, and flexing our PBL muscles will accelerate the school’s mission. PBL is one beautiful vehicle to focus on inquiry, innovation, and impact. It enhances the preparation of our students to be college ready, globally competitive, and engaged citizen leaders. Connecting to Design Thinking, a trademark of Mount Vernon, PBL has the capacity to be even richer and more powerful.

Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning: A Proven Approach to Rigorous Classroom Instruction by Larmer, Mergendoller, and Boss (2015) grounds our focus in the Lower School, Middle School, and Upper School. I am enjoying taking a slow journey through its pages. One table stood out to me thus far as a very helpful and succinct clarification of PBL, too many times confused with projects.

Projects versus Project-Based Learning

Projects Project-Based Learning
Supplemental to a unit The project IS the unit, or a major vehicle for teaching learning outcomes within a unit
Task is based on following directions from the teacher and is repeated year after year Task is open-ended and involves student voice and choice; often differs from year to year
Typically done individually Done in collaboration with a team
Done independently, often at home Done with teacher guidance, much of it during school hours
Focused on the product; the product may even be called the project The project includes a sustained inquiry process AND the creation of a product
Not authentic to the real world or to students’ lives Authentic to the real world or to students’ lives, or both

I wonder how many of us will find that what we currently do is leaning a little too far on the left of this table. I wonder how we might make shifts in our teaching and planning so that we lean more readily to the right side.

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