Project-Based Learning – What’s the Bigger Picture?

Another school year is in the books, and educational institutions now have the time to recharge for the 2015-2016 school year.  As I’ve covered, project-based learning is growing in popularity.  Thus it would not be surprising to see more schools use this summer to think of ways to implement this learning approach into their classrooms (especially with the plethora of positive PBL examples reported in media outlets).

One thing I like to do is look at the bigger picture and future ramifications of implementing new strategies.  Project-based learning opens the door to incredible learning and discovery opportunities for children.  But why should we stop there?  Why should we stop with just implementing the method into the classroom? What is the bigger picture here, and if one doesn’t exist, should we create one?

Let’s look at a recent example of where we could go. Purdue University recently announced that they will open a new high school, Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis High School, in August of 2017.  Purdue University president Mitch Daniels states that the school will, “offer an alternative learning environment designed to better prepare students for today’s workplace” in addition to better setting up Indianapolis public school students to succeed at institutions like Purdue.  Purdue faculty will help with the design of the curriculum, of which the first 2 years for each student will focus on project-based learning and problem-based learning. The 3rd year focuses on mastery, college credit and industry credentials, while the 4th year focuses on an internship.

Here we see project-based learning not only set to be implemented into the classrooms at this school, but also serving as part of a larger, detailed plan and structure to set up the students for success in college.  This pipeline approach will of course require a lot of coordination and various stakeholders to be on the same page.  Yet it takes elements such as PBL and treats them as part of a larger, perhaps more powerful puzzle rather than as an end itself.

Perhaps we are not quite at the point where we can see such plans and systematic structures produced on a wider scale.  But it’s important to keep in mind that the daily classroom experience is just one part of a much larger, and more complex landscape that students must navigate daily and for years on end.  PBL has garnered much positive attention for what it brings to the table, but perhaps it is what it can bring to the larger picture that will allow it to shine to its greatest potential.


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