May 2022 Newsletter – Project-Based Learning: Elements of Project-Based Learning

One of the hallmarks of PBL is that children are tasked with answering a real-world question or exploring solutions to real-world problems or challenges. This brings a level of authenticity that is engaging for many children.

Project based learning builds upon the weekly themed lesson planning that traditionally happens in early learning environments. For example, the traditional “community helpers week” is a great foundation for future projects. All of the activities during this week give children a chance to learn more about police officers, firefighters, mail carriers, etc. These activities are most likely planned in advance by the teacher, with little input from the children.

In contrast, a community helpers PBL unit may focus on the real-world question of “How does someone become a community helper?”.  During this project, children not only learn about community helpers but discover the skills and qualifications required to become a firefighter or a doctor. They can work together to generate ideas for how to answer the main question, which may lead to other questions that need to be answered. They can work in teams to write letters to the local police department asking their questions or invite the mail carrier to come into the classroom for an interview.  Prior to the interview, they can generate a list of questions to ask the mail carrier and after they have gathered the answers to their questions, they will need to compile the information into an easy-to-understand presentation or poster.

Projects should promote inquiry and flexibility, meaning that five days into the project, there may be more questions than answers and projects may change direction before returning to the original question (which they may never do).   Teachers encourage children to continue following their interests in the topic until it wanes. As you can imagine, most projects won’t fit neatly into a one-week lesson plan.

The great thing about PBL is that it can be scaled to the interests and developmental level of the children in the group.  For example, older students may work on a project with a focus on how to save money for college or a car.  Younger children could also do a project related to saving money for a class pet or to donate to a local charity.

In addition to focusing on real-world questions and solutions, PBL provides opportunities for:

  • Child choice: children generate ideas for how they will contribute to the project.
  • Child voice: the ideas generated come from the children. Adults facilitate and help children document their ideas and observations, but the children do the work.
  • Ongoing inquiry: children have the chance to revisit and revise questions and ideas throughout the project. Adults encourage children to rethink, redesign, and restart elements of the project as necessary.
  • A tangible product or solution: the goal of a project is for the children to generate a real solution or product that addresses the question or challenge that was the genesis of the project.

Lastly, PBL differs slightly from traditional projects that you may be used to from your experience in school in that they are the learning opportunity, not the culmination of a unit of learning. For example, in a traditional project, a class may read a book about animals and create a poster about the book.  With PBL, the children would research information about an animal that is on the endangered species list and write a book about the animal and how to save them!

Learn more about the difference between traditional projects and PBL here.  You can even take a quiz here to see if you can tell the difference between the two – we scored 8/8!


For the main article Project-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Benefits of Project-Based Learning, CLICK HERE

For the article Getting Started and Project Ideas, CLICK HERE

For the article Director’s Corner – Supporting Project Based Learning, CLICK HERE