Project Based Learning In Your Classroom--Just Go For It

26 February 2017

I’m a firm believer that students need to be exposed to the real-world as soon as possible. No, I’m not talking about making them pay taxes or get jobs. I’m talking about allowing kids to face issues or problems that are relevant and filled with life skills they will use when they grow up. Big picture stuff. Starting a business and helping the environment are just a couple of examples, but we can go so much further. It’s why we should be pushing more project based learning into our schools and classrooms.

If you know me, you know I love project based learning. This type of learning is crucial for students to develop underused skills in the classroom. So lets take a moment and focus on four of my top reasons you should add it to your classroom repertoire.

PBL is Critical Thinking
We want critical thinkers. We want our kids to think critically. What does that even mean to elementary students? Will they leave school with a monocle and English accent? I hear the term “critical thinking” all the time in reading, but not as much in other subjects (except science, but many districts only do that a couple of times a week). BUT what exactly does critical thinking mean at a younger age (don’t answer that, it’s hypothetical).

Project based learning fits the bill when we ask students to take a “critical” look at solving issues because it forces students to make sound judgements based on information they research and learn. There’s nothing really fancy about it. Break down information you learn, ask questions, and dig deeper. If students are faced with an issue (driving question)…what does that really look like? We want students to peek behind the curtain and see the wizard pulling all the strings.

One of my favorite lessons to teach is applying area and perimeter into the world of house building, tiny house building, to be a little more exact. How will a kid design a house with over 20 items included? It takes design skills (and practice), while spinning in math concepts, while adding a dose of realism that carpenters and designers must do every single day. You can see more of the tiny house here. A PBL that correlates with real-life skills makes the connection stronger for students to see why certain (academic) skills must be mastered.

With all that said, if your students decide to go the monocle route…well, that is pretty cool.

PBL Doesn’t Crush Imagination and Creativity
Let’s face it, schools do a really excellent job at crushing creativity and imagination. We don’t do it on purpose, but it happens. And it happens more than we’d like to admit. Sometimes I think that’s why we get so excited when kids come up with something wonderful—because we’ve been holding them back.

PBL encourages imagination and creativity because it involves the ability to problem solve (and even think critically). There isn’t a set course of rules and mandates that must be followed to solve an issue or find an answer. It’s one of the main reasons why I think visual design, drawing, and creating are such important elements within project based learning for elementary students.

I tell my students that if they ask me a question of “can I do this?” my answer will always be yes. This confuses quite a few of them. For years they’ve been waiting for instructions, now they’re being ask to take a risk and use their imagination. Don't make your students want to be told when to learn. Encourage and teach them to go after it for themselves.

PBL is Cross Curricular
In the real-world with real jobs and real people most projects involve more than one thing. Math, reading, science, history, art, collaboration, management, whatever, or everything combined—life is cross curricular.

If life is cross curricular, opportunities within the classroom should be too. And that’s where project based learning fits in perfectly.

PBL Doesn’t Care About Your Learning Level
The ability that all students have to learn and progress at their own level is a powerful tool to have. In the classroom, PBL is perfect for pushing students to their limits and even past them. They allow for immediate differentiation because every student or group is working at their preferred pace.

They’re also choosing how they want to learn or solve the issue at hand. All students have multiple ways to learn from books, magazines, internet, collaboration, hands-on experiments, STEM, interviews, and the list can go on.

You can read more about why I feel it is such a powerful tool for learners at lower levels.

If you’d like to read more of my musing on how to get started with project based learning read this. It doesn’t have to be difficult.

See more PBL Activities here.


  1. One of my students in my enrichment section is turning the gym into an aviary. Great that he wants to build it also. We are cutting geometric nets for cages, collecting rocks and twigs for the "birds" to sit on and have investigated where to purchase carrion for his raptors. All of this in the top of a copy paper box. He is a second grader.

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