“Oh, project based learning, yea. I know that. I’ve done that before! I can totally do this,” I thought when I started my very beginning, very basic exploration of what exactly project based learning was all about.

After spending all summer planning just our first project of the year,  I realized that I really had not ever done project based learning. I was really just confused. The biggest difference for me is that what I thought was project based learning was actually project based assessment. Two totally different concepts, I promise.

In project based assessment, I teach everything that I know they will need to complete the project, to pass the test, to “know what they need to know.” It’s still very traditional style teaching and learning. Lecturing. Sit and get.


Project based learning is very different. I pose a question and give the kids an entry document that in a way outlines the expectations for their project. Most of the time there isn’t a true final product envisioned except that there is normally a written and a public speaking component. I have posed a question and now they must gather all the necessary information through their own research and through workshop requests.

Workshops are the way that I, or my co-facilitator, disseminate information. Sometimes they are lectures and sometimes they are learner driven e-workshops. The whole purpose of the workshops is that learners are most of the time not required to go to the workshops. There are quite a few more mandatory workshops for freshmen than there are for juniors or seniors. We aren’t just teaching them about content, we’re teaching them to take control and own their learning.

My example of optional workshops always comes back to when I was in high school and had to go through the grammar lessons just like everyone else, even though I was beyond good at grammar. I knew how to diagram a sentence and identify parts of speech, but still I was forced to sit and “learn” the information that I had long ago mastered. In the PBL environment, learners are asked to think about what they know and decide whether or not the workshop would be beneficial to them.

Some kids love workshops and go to all of them. Some kids get a note that says “I would like to see you at this workshop,” but either way, they are learning more than the content. A combination of workshops, research, and feedback give the learners a solid foundation of knowledge to build their final product.

Another huge component of PBL is the authenticity of the product. We always want to give our learners a real audience that consists of more than their facilitators. We bring in guest judges and experts in the field. We want them to have the best possible product, and part of that comes from the knowledge that someone other than me will be judging their work.

Any questions about PBL? Ask them in the comments and I’ll dedicate a post to the answer!

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