GETTING A GRIP ON PROJECT-BASED LEARNING:
THEORY, CASES AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Michael M. Grant
Project-based learning is centered on the learner and affords learners the opportunity for in-depth investigations of worthy topics. The learners are more autonomous as they construct personally-meaningful artifacts that are representations of their learning. This article examines the theoretical foundations of project-based learning, particularly constructivism and constructionism, and notes the similarities and differences among implementations, including project-based science (Blulmenfeld et al., 1991), disciplined inquiry (Levstik & Barton, 2001) and WebQuests (Dodge, 1995). In addition, an anatomy of a model case will be considered using a WebQuest example developed by the author, describing seven characteristics common among the various implementations of project-based learning. Finally, practical advice and recommendations for project-based learning are discussed, including beginning slowly with the implementation, teaching students to negotiate cooperative/collaborative groups and establishing multiple forms of performance assessments.
Introduction and Background
Project-based learning is an instructional method centered on the learner. Instead of using a rigid lesson plan that directs a learner down a specific path of learning outcomes or objectives, project-based learning allows in-depth investigation of a topic worth learning more about (Harris & Katz, 2001). Through the construction of a personally-meaningful artifact, which may be a play, a multimedia presentation or a poem, learners represent what they've learned (Harel & Papert, 1991; Kafai & Resnick, 1996). In addition, learners typically have more autonomy over what they learn, maintaining interest and motivating learners to take more responsibility for their learning (Tassinari, 1996; Wolk, 1994; Worthy, 2000). With more autonomy, learners "shape their projects to fit their own interests and abilities" (Moursund, 1998, p. 4). So, project-based
learning and the construction of artifacts enable the expression of diversity in learners, such as interests, abilities and learning styles. This article will explore the theoretical foundations of project-based learning and examine cases from the literature to note variations and similarities of how project-based learning has been implemented. Next, the anatomy of a model case will be considered. Finally, some practical advice and recommendations for trying project-based learning in the classroom will be provided.
Project-based learning has a long history. As far back as the early 1900s, John Dewey supported "learning by doing." This sentiment is also reflected in constructivism and constructionism. Constructivism (Perkins, 1991; Piaget, 1969; Vygotsky, 1978) explains that individuals construct knowledge through interactions with their environment, and each individual's knowledge construction is different. So, through conducting investigations, conversations or activities, an individual is learning by constructing new knowledge by building on their current knowledge.
Constructionism takes the notion of individuals constructing knowledge one step further. Constructionism (Harel & Papert, 1991; Kafai & Resnick, 1996) posits that individuals learn best when they are constructing an artifact that can be shared with others and reflected upon, such as plays, poems, pie charts or toothpick bridges. Another important element to constructionism is that the artifacts must be personally meaningful, where individuals are most likely to become engaged in learning. By focusing on the individual learner, projectbased learning strives for "considerable individualization of curriculum, instruction and assessment-in other words, the project is learnercentered" (Moursund, 1998, p.4).
Examples from the Literature
In the literature, examples of project-based learning vary in both context...
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