Why Project Based Learning Is So Important

’NOW, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life. Plant nothing else, and root out everything else. You can only form the minds of reasoning animals upon Facts: nothing else will ever be of any service to them. This is the principle on which I bring up my own children, and this is the principle on which I bring up these children. Stick to Facts, sir!”' Charles Dickens, Hard Times

We’ve seen unprecedented human progress since the industrial revolution. It’s safe to say the cultural mindset and the way we work today is unrecognisable compared to Dickensian times. So why is our education systems still predominantly focused on fact based learning and the ability to recall information in order to succeed in assessments?

Fourth Industrial Revolution

Of course there needs to be standardised ways to determine what students have learnt. However there needs to be more of a shift towards skills based assessment as opposed to the current system.But we need a shift towards skill based assessment to do justice to modern ways of learning. Cramming information for a test, which will be long forgotten after that exam is over, is not a sustainable approach to learning.

Pressurising young people to achieve good marks in an assessment squashes creativity.

Is an experiment run by Stanford’s Mark Lepper in the 70s, children were asked to create a piece of art with paper and pens and asked who wanted to create something for the reward of a certificate. Lepper discovered extrinsic motivation can erode someone’s intrinsic desire to create and can severely affect the quality of the work.

Teresa Amabile one of Lepper’s PhD students expanded this experiment with a different art project. She took two groups and set a time-limit to complete the project and there was a prize for the best piece of art. The other group were allowed to draw freely with no time constraints.

The projects was assessed by experts from the Art department, who unanimously agreed the work done with freedom and no promised reward showed evidence of more creativity. This experiment is just one example of many used to argue the advantages of giving children creative freedom in order to learn.

Project Based Learning

Being able to recite facts is not going to be much use in the workplace of the future. Predictions about the problems we’ll face in the future change as rapidly as new technologies are developed. These predictions are in constant flux. What we can predict however is that these problems will not be solved by reading a textbook but by using lateral thinking.

The professional landscape of the future is still very much unknown and the challenges facing employers and employees alike are also uncertain. The ability to interact with other humans, as well as the machines which will undoubtedly be present in the workplace by 2030 can not be learnt by attending a lecture.

Enter Project Based Learning

You’ve probably come across the term in multiple places but to recap: Project Based Learning (PBL) was “discovered” as a teaching methodology over 100 years ago by education pioneer John Dewey who promoted the idea of “learning by doing.”

PBL empowers students to learn through making projects that combine academics with solving real world challenges. It’s essential for making the link between academic concepts and real world applications.

The key skills PBL enhances are:

  • Critical Thinking & assessing ways to improve
  • Creative Thinking
  • Team Work
  • Problem Solving
  • Application of Information
  • Adaptability
  • Communication

All skills which are hugely sought after by 21st century employers.

Teamwork & Collaboration

Learning by doing prepares students for the unpredictable and ever changing world they will be working in. Another noted success of PBL is students engage much more in their work - especially when given the freedom to determine the focus of the project. For example learning how to program a robot to tie your shoe laces or to alert you when you need to walk your dog.

How can PBL be brought into the classroom?

In a Computer Science context learning by creating is an unparalleled concept. You can’t learn to program a robot unless you are actually doing it yourself. Allowing students to identify a project they are excited to solve can lead to an abundance of creativity in the classroom as students become more engaged in their work.

Of course PBL can be time consuming and difficult for teachers to integrate into classes which is probably the main reason why PBL is not mainstream just yet. However with more and more resources to enable curriculum supported integration of PBL into lessons it is without doubt that the popularity of the concept will continue to grow.

To enable STEAM learning projects in a fun and interactive way we have created a variety of different tech kits to to inspire project based learning in the classroom. Find out more about the kits here.

Why is Project Based Learning So Important? Join in the conversation over on Twitter @magpieeducation #learningbycreating