What are the current and potential issues surrounding the use of Project Based Learning in traditional or nontraditional schools?

  • What do the numbers say? How many K-12 teachers/students/schools/programs are involved in the move toward PBL?

The actual “numbers” are difficult to find beyond the occasional article that claims the number of teachers or schools using PBL is growing.  Educational foundations such as Edutopia and the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) offer a plethora of research, articles, and resources to promote the model to more teachers and schools.  This push would suggest that the number is growing or will grow.  There also appears to be a few organizations or networks of schools that work together to promote and support PBL classrooms.  One example would be the New Tech Network, in which my school is a part of currently (http://www.newtechnetwork.org/).

An interesting article related to the number of schools adopting the model asks the question, “Why aren’t we all doing this?”  State testing and regulations, student/parent/teacher/administration resistance, and the time needed to train and adopt PBL are a few obstacles that may slow the rate of adoption of PBL (Stern, 2014).  Resistance arises from the fear of not meeting standards AND doing something different from “what we have always done.”  Many of my students would ask, “Why change?  I was making good grades the old way.”  They knew what was expected and they could deliver.  A new model means more work.


Stern, B. (2014, June 3). Can You Just Tell Me What to Do? Retrieved January 24, 2016, from http://bie.org/blog/can_you_just_tell_me_what_to_do


  • Are at-risk students served by programs that incorporate PBL? How?

According to a book published and hosted by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), project-based learning increases motivation to go to school and decreases student dropout by engaging students in learning that connects school, work, and the community (Larmer, Megendoller, & Boss, 2015).  The content’s relevance to the real world as well as the teaching of 21st-century skills in project-based learning engages all students in their learning.  Rather than memorizing useless knowledge, students are developing skills needed in the real world. Furthermore, the student-centered learning offered in project-based learning allows students to feel empowered and find success by focusing on student strengths. (Carr & Jitendra, 2000).  Particularly for at-risk students that often found little success in a traditional model, PBL allows students to fulfill roles that magnify their strengths, grows their weaknesses in a safe environment, and celebrates their uniqueness and successes.


Carr, T., & Jitendra, A. K. (2000). Using Hypermedia and Multimedia to Promote Project-Based Learning of At-Risk High School Students. Intervention in School and Clinic, 36(1), 40-44.


Larmer, J., Mergendoller, J. R., & Boss, S. (2015). Setting the standard for project based learning: A proven approach to rigorous classroom instruction. Retrieved January 24, 2016, from http://www.ascd.org/publications/books/114017/chapters/Why-Project-Based-Learning¢.aspx


  • What role does NCLB play in encouraging/inhibiting the use of PBL in traditional classrooms?

As mentioned in the first question and answer, standardized testing and governmental standards are often seen as obstacles to project-based learning. Accountability to No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is characterized as standardized exams composed of multiple-choice questions to test content mastery.  In contrast, project-based learning assessments are seen as more open-ended.  These exams require critical thinking or even performance-based tasks in which students demonstrate their learning through application. Teachers, students, and districts were required to keep a foot in both worlds: “accountable to traditional state assessments, even if they’re shifting their instructional model to PBL” (Boss, 2012).


Boss, S. (2012, October). The Challenge of Assessing Project-Based Learning. Retrieved January 24, 2016, from http://www.districtadministration.com/article/challenge-assessing-project-based-learning


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