Introducing project-based learning

Project-based learning (PBL) is an approach to teaching and learning that engages students in rich and authentic learning experiences. PBL can be transformative for your teaching practice but requires strong, supportive leadership and a commitment to innovation and contemporary pedagogies.

In a PBL environment, students gain knowledge and skills by investigating and responding to an engaging question, problem or challenge.

A PBL learning and teaching framework addresses cross-curricula content and learning dispositions through rigorous, authentic, hands-on, interactive learning experiences.

Why should I implement project-based learning?

PBL is interdisciplinary (cross-curricula) and focuses on active, student-directed learning. It gives students an authentic, real-world context for learning where student voice matters.

Students face complex challenges in a post-school environment where problem-solving, collaboration and creativity are highly valued skills.

Key reasons for using PBL include:

  • well-scaffolded PBL engages students in their personal learning journey
  • offers students an opportunity to build confidence, solve problems, work in teams, communicate ideas, and manage themselves more effectively
  • encourages students to use technology in authentic ways
  • connects students and schools with communities locally and globally.

How does project-based learning develop students’ general capabilities?

The NSW Syllabi for the Australian Curriculum all embed ‘Learning Across the Curriculum’ content, which includes cross-curriculum priorities and general capabilities. The general capabilities are the skills, behaviours, knowledge and attitudes that will support students in leading successful lives in the future. The general capabilities are:

  • Literacy.
  • Numeracy.
  • ICT Capability.
  • Critical and Creative Thinking.
  • Personal and Social Capability.
  • Ethical Understanding.
  • Intercultural Understanding.

The NSW Department of Education General Capabilities paper from 2014 provides a deep discussion on how the capabilities are interrelated, how they are best cultivated, how they could be best assessed, and how curriculum can develop these skills in students. Project-based learning pedagogy provides real-world practice and application of the general capabilities, within curriculum requirements of content and skill development.

‘The general capabilities are best cultivated using a broad tool kit of pedagogies. It would not be wise to rely too heavily on any one pedagogy or type of pedagogy. However, because of the differences between knowing-how and knowing-that, cultivating general capabilities requires more emphasis on inquiry-based approaches.

Learning and assessment tasks need to be designed in such a way as to immerse the learner in the activity we are seeking to cultivate, and provide feedback about the learner’s achievement’ (p20, NSW Department of Education, 2014).

How do I implement project-based learning?

In order to implement PBL effectively it is important to understand the essential elements of PBL and consider how the roles of student and teacher are redefined.

This guide will help develop an understanding of the processes of PBL and point to a range of resources that can be used to support its implementation.

PBL does not need to be implemented in its entirety when first starting. A 'project slice' is a good starting point, and as students and teachers become more familiar with the elements of PBL, further elements and strategies may be implemented.

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