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Research Spotlight on Project-Based Learning

NEA Reviews of the Research on Best Practices in Education

Found In: teaching strategies

What is Project-Based Learning (PBL) and how long has it been around? As far back as the early 1900s, John Dewey supported the "learning by doing" approach to education, which is the essential element of PBL.

Today, PBL is viewed as a model for classroom activity that shifts away from teacher-centered instruction and emphasizes student-centered projects.

This model helps make learning relevant to students by establishing connections to life outside the classroom and by addressing real world issues. In the classroom, PBL gives teachers an opportunity to build relationships with students by acting as their coach, facilitator, and co-learner. In the school and beyond, the model further allows teachers opportunities to build relationships among colleagues and with those in the larger community. Student projects can be shared with other teachers, parents, and others who have a vested interest in the students' education.

What does the research say about PBL? Below are links to the current research on the topic:

  • Handbook: Introduction to Project-Based Learning
    This article gives an introduction to PBL and a description of its benefits. It also identifies key elements of successful projects. (Buck Institute for Education, 2007)
  • PBL in Your Classroom
    This section of the handbook suggests "standards-based" projects as a central method of teaching and learning that replaces conventional instruction for a portion of a course.
  • Project-Based Research
    This page contains links to current research studies on PBL. (Buck Institute for Education, 2007)
  • A Review of Research on Project-Based Learning (PDF icon PDF)
    This review covers the underpinnings of PBL research and practice, evaluative research as well as research on the effectiveness of PBL. (John W. Thomas, 2000)
  • Research Validates Project-Based Learning
    This article highlights the growing body of academic research that supports the use of PBL in schools as a way to engage students, cut absenteeism, boost cooperative learning skills and improve test scores. (Edutopia, 2001)
  • Web Resources: Project Examples
    This site contains links to exemplary projects and structures for students to create and facilitate their own projects to fit their own particular classroom and curriculum needs. (Buck Institute for Education, 2007)
  • Technology and Beyond: Teachers Learning Through Project-Based Partnerships (PDF icon PDF)
    This article highlights a teacher partnership model for professional development that's effective in building technology, pedagogy, leadership skills, and collaboration practices that support teacher learning. (Karen A. Cole, Institute for Research on Learning, 1999)


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