Project-Based Learning For The Win!

When I reflect on my own experience as a student, there are only a handful of meaningful memories that I recall that were related to what I was learning. Nobody remembers what was said on page 36 of the math textbook or what year the Origin of Species was published. We probably spent many years of our formative education studying these types of facts, yet we don’t have strong memories attached to them. The memories that I recall fondly of are when my teachers immersed me into a project that didn’t have a solidly defined outcome. 

One example that stands out for me, which was my first experience with a project, involved the identification, collection and display of Texas wildflowers (proud Texan here). At the time I didn’t care too much about wildflowers, but the project ignited an inner “Indiana Jones” in me. I hunted down the most rare and beautiful wildflowers that I could find in West Texas, paying close attention to the varieties of subspecies, habitat locations and population distributions. The project culminated in creating a personal wildflower collection scrapbook with photos, notes, and pressed flowers. To this day, it is the only artifact of learning that I have retained from my k-12 education.

This early project profoundly impacted me, which has lasted through my career as an educator, researcher and Project Based Learning Coach. Since that first project I have always wondered why anyone would need to memorize the contents of page 36 of the math book, when you can easily find and look up any fact on the internet, which makes learning about facts almost obsolete. Famed education researcher, Sugata Mitra has even boldly stated that we have reached “the end of knowing (facts).” Mitra, myself and many other leading educators and researchers have known this for a while and have shifted our focus from learning facts, to learning skills. Though, in my experience, learning skills in isolation is similar to learning facts, and can sometimes be boring and repetitive. Designing projects that provide opportunities for students to learn skills in the context of a certain content area makes learning skills more intuitive, natural and creates an atmosphere of how most work is done -through projects.

Project Based Learning provides an enriching experience where students are learning subject-matter content as well as highly transferable skills like communication, problem solving, and adaptability. If I think back to my Texas wildflower project, besides learning how to identify a Yellowstar, I also learned how to manage time, organize ideas, present information, share observations and ask for help. These vital skills are transferable and useful in life as well as in school. This is why Project Based Learning is such a powerful approach to learning. Along with learning transferable skills, Project Based Learning has also been shown to increase student engagement, increase National test scores and increase attendance. 

At BSD Education, we design learning experiences that take advantage of the benefits of Project Based Learning and bake them right into our learning platform. Our students learn digital skills like coding, design and entrepreneurship, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving.

If you are interested in learning more about Project Based Learning, here are some resources you can check out:

PBL Works

PBL Professional Development

My blog with several project examples

If you want to learn more about this, tune into our upcoming webinar on the topic. If you are reading this article after the date of the webinar, no problem! All previous recorded webinars can be found here on our website

about Mark
Mark is Vice President of Education. He is passionate about project-based learning and teaching students to create with technology.
With experience in STEAM and maker education, he has consulted with teachers and administrators all over the world to setup and design impactful learning experiences with makerspaces and related education themes. He speaks internationally about equity and access to STEAM and maker education, most notably at the Stanford FabLearn Conference, MIT Libre Learn Lab, SXSWedu, EARCOS in Bangkok, UNESCO in India and at 21st Century Learning in Hong Kong.

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