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What Is PBL and Why Do We Use It?

Project Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method – perhaps the oldest teaching method – in which young actively engage in a class-chosen subject, and then apply their learning to the real-world. In addition, they demonstrate their proficiency with a personally meaningful project.

With our ‘in-center students, our educators make curriculum and lessons ‘come alive’ for our students. Together, our educators and students choose from a variety of subjects: insects, weather, giving back, philanthropy, climate change – it could be anything! We then actively work on a project over a two-week period.

PBL engages them in solving a real-world problem or answering a complex question. They demonstrate their knowledge and skills by creating a product or presentation for an audience. PBL has been found to help students develop deep content knowledge as well as critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication skills. PBL unleashes a contagious, creative energy among our students and educators.

In addition, PBL differentiates instruction so that children with varying abilities can express their understanding of a concept in a way that utilizes their strengths.

Why PBL?

Because Project Based Learning engages students in learning that is deep-rooted and long-lasting and inspires in them a love of learning and creates a personal correlation to their academic experience.

PBL can be transformative for students, especially for children with learning deficits. They actively interact with adults, businesses and organizations, and their community, and can develop career interests. They gain skills valuable in today’s workplace and in life, such as how to take initiative, work responsibly, solve problems, collaborate in teams, and communicate ideas.

Finally, because our educators work so closely with active, engaged students doing meaningful work, they get to share in the rediscovered joy of learning, and it builds rewarding teacher relationships.

Additional Resources:

Academic achievement:

Goals for 21st century learning emphasize mastery of significant academic content, which also is the foundation of any well-designed project. Comparisons of learning outcomes in PBL versus more traditional, textbook-and-lecture driven instruction show that:

  • Students learning through PBL retain content longer and have a deeper understanding of what they are learning. (Penuel & Means, 2000; Stepien, Gallagher & Workman, 1993)
  • In specific content areas, PBL has been shown to be more effective than traditional methods for teaching math, economics, language, science, and other disciplines. (Beckett & Miller, 2006; Boaler, 2002; Finkelstein et al., 2010; Greier et al., 2008; Mergendoller, Maxwell, & Bellisimo, 2006)
  • On high-stakes tests, PBL students perform as well or better than traditionally taught students. (Parker et al., 2011)

21st century competencies:

PBL helps students master the key competencies identified as essential for college and career readiness. Research has shown:

  • Students demonstrate better problem-solving skills in PBL than in more traditional classes and are able to apply what they learn to real-life situations. (Finkelstein et al., 2010)
  • When teachers are trained in PBL methods, they devote more class time to teaching 21st century skills; their students perform at least as well on standardized tests as students engaged in traditional instruction. (Hixson, Ravitz, & Whisman, 2012)
  • PBL students also show improved critical thinking. (Beckett & Miller, 2006; Horan, Lavaroni, & Beldon, 1996; Mergendoller, Maxwell, & Bellisimo, 2006; Tretten & Zachariou, 1995)
  • Through PBL experiences, students improve their ability to work collaboratively and resolve conflicts. (Beckett & Miller; ChanLin, 2008)
  • Opportunities for collaborative learning provide benefits to students across grade levels, academic subjects, and achievement levels. (Johnson & Johnson, 2009; Slavin, 1996)


  • PBL shows promise as a strategy for closing the achievement gap by engaging lowerachieving students. (Boaler, 2002; Penuel & Means, 2000)
  • PBL can work in different types of schools, serving diverse learners. (Hixson, Ravitz, & Whisman, 2012)
  • PBL also can provide an effective model for whole-school reform. (National Clearinghouse for Comprehensive School Reform, 2004; Newmann & Wehlage, 1995; Ravitz, 2008)


  • In PBL classrooms, students demonstrate improved attitudes toward learning. They exhibit more engagement, are more self-reliant, and have better attendance than in more traditional settings. (Thomas, 2000; Walker & Leary, 2009)

Teacher satisfaction:

  • Teachers may need time and professional development to become familiar with PBL methods, but those who make this shift in classroom practice report increased job satisfaction. (Hixson, Ravitz, & Whisman, 2012; Strobel & van Barneveld, 2009)
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