In project-based learning, students try to answer a question -- one that has relevance for them -- that is greater than the immediate task at hand. In its book Connecting the Bits, the NEA Foundation for the Improvement of Education gives the example of students at a Kentucky elementary school conducting surveys, doing research, building models, and taking field trips with the goal of determining the best kind of new bridge to build over the Ohio River.
Students conduct research using a variety of sources, from the Internet to interviews with experts. They work on the project over an extended period of time -- six weeks or more -- because of the in-depth nature of the investigation. Like adults trying to solve a problem, they don't restrict themselves to one discipline but delve into math, literature, history, science -- whatever is appropriate to the study.Seymour Papert, renowned expert on children and computing, why students are turned off by school, and he quickly offers an example:
"We teach numbers, then algebra, then calculus, then physics. Wrong!" exclaims the Massachusetts Institute of Technology mathematician and pioneer in Artificial Intelligence. "Start with engineering, and from that abstract out physics, and from that abstract out ideas of calculus, and eventually separate off pure mathematics. So much better to have the first-grade kid or kindergarten kid doing engineering and leave it to the older ones to do pure mathematics than to do it the other way around."
In a growing number of schools, educators are echoing Papert's assertion that engaging students by starting with the concrete and solving hands-on, real-world problems is a great motivator. Ultimately, they say, such project-based learning that freely crosses disciplines provides an education superior to the traditional "algebra at age nine, Civil War at ten, Great Expectations at eleven" structure.
I realize that enthusiasm alone isn't enough of a justification to advocate project-based learning, but the results of that enthusiasm argue in its favor, say educators and researchers who have studied or used project-based learning.
Some information for this article was obtained at Edutopia.