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Re: [xmca] Project Based Learning

xmca-ers, I sent the same message about project based learning to a friend here in Melbourne who gave me such a comprehensive answer, I thought I should share it:
Dear Andy,

Project-based learning (PBL) is what you are, of course, referring to. With an array of pedagogical origins extending back many centuries (well, further, of course, in a philosophical sense) and passing through numerous iterations (including Dewey and the school of American pragmatism), the espoused theory of PBL has been less nuanced than its richer practice which invariably blends with other (even oppositional) teaching strategies and methods.

*A critique of PBL and other minimal guidance approaches*

Minimal guidance techniques whereby learners discover or 'construct' essential information (including project-based learning, discovery learning, problem-based learning, inquiry learning, experiential learning and constructivist learning) can constitute an inefficient and ineffectual way to teach and learn. After at least 50 years of advocacy associated with instruction using minimal guidance, there is still no solid body of research supporting such techniques. Not only is unguided instruction normally less effective, there is also evidence that it may have negative results when students acquire misconceptions or incomplete or disorganised knowledge.

Cognitive load theory (Paul A. Kirschner, John Sweller, and Richard E. Clark in their above critique of minimal guidance) suggests that the free exploration of a complex environment may generate a heavy working memory load that is detrimental to students’ more strategic and sharply focused learning. As learning, by definition, means a change in long-term memory, the problem with minimal guidance is that the load on working memory makes it difficult for long-term learning.

Students’ working memory is thus burdened by requiring them to sort through irrelevant information while locating information that is relevant (a problem compounded, of course, by the Net and superficial fact-gathering). And working memory cannot be used efficiently to commit relevant information to long-term memory if assessing the relevance of material. Indeed, it is possible to search or work on projects for extended periods of time with quite minimal alterations to long-term memory.

*A criticism of this critique – steps toward a synthesis*

The main criticism is that critiques of PBL, etc. *do not adequately bring to the fore the need to move beyond the old antithetical either-or* *of teacher-centred didactic instruction _versus_ student-centred learning*. There is obviously always the danger of glorifying one end of the educational spectrum and casting the other end into total darkness. As suggested by terms such as 'guided discovery', elements of both instructional guidance and inquiry-based learning are not mutually exclusive.

This blend of the best elements of what are often presented as clear-cut alternatives is, of course, consistent with the work of educators who seek to progress a 21st century teaching and learning practice, founded on a more intimate, complex, dialectical interplay of *both* students’ independent inquiry, problem-solving and practical project work *and* increased depth of students' knowledge and understanding of concepts, facts, laws, principles and theories, as imparted by teachers.

Long developed by many teachers in practice (even if their espoused, 'pure' theories contradict this), this dialectical interplay is obviously at the basis of techniques such as scaffolding, cognitive apprenticeships and Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. Important, of course, to teaching in the ZPD (as "the distance between the actual developmental level, as determined by independent problem solving, and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers") is the precise determination of what the student can really manage and develop on his or her own. But this, in turn, obviously depends on the guided instruction of a teacher or a more knowledgeable peer or new, data-rich kinds of technology-assisted collaborative learning.

*Beyond the old dualisms in education*

This educational practice is obviously quite distinct from the two hitherto dominant and contrasting paradigms of overly-didactic instruction _versus_ constructivist inquiry-based learning. It is thus not inquiry-based learning or PBL _per se_ (all of which contain useful insights into how best to engage and motivate many students) but rather the persistence of false dichotomies in education that is the problem to be resolved, notwithstanding the many instances of creative synthesis.

Educational theory and practice has, of course, long been bedeviled by false dualisms. (*This is _partly_ an Anglo problem, of course – but this cultural and linguistic question is another issue altogether*). Anyway, these dualisms are also out of sync with most students who would benefit greatly from an education system and from schools that did not pose practical activities, projects and meaning against abstract and theoretical studies but instead more systematically and creatively combined new forms of practical project work and independent inquiry and even greater depth of scientific and philosophical knowledge and understanding.

Hope that this is of use!

-Nic (nicholas.abbey@optusnet.com.au)
0402 152 634

*As for the technique of PBL, have a look at:*

• Mitchell, S., Foulger, T. S., & Wetzel, K., Rathkey, C. (February, 2009). The negotiated project approach: Project-based learning without leaving the standards behind. Early Childhood Education Journal, 36(4), 339-346. Available at http://www.springerlink.com/content/c73q57211024x727/fulltext.html

• Boss, S., & Krauss, J. (2007). _Reinventing project-based learning: Your field guide to real-world projects in the digital age._ Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education.

• And from http://download.intel.com/education/Common/au/Resources/DEP/projectdesign/DEP_pbl_research.pdf one or more of the following may be of interest:
* *
*Resources and research*

*Autodesk Foundation *http://web.archive.org/web/20030812124529/www.k12reform.org/foundation/pbl/research/* In a comprehensive synthesis, John W. Thomas, Ph.D., examines the research base for project-based learning. *Buck Institute for Education *http://www.bie.org Buck Institute offers training and a handbook to guide middle school and high school teachers in incorporating project-based learning into the curriculum. The Web site also includes resources and research on PBL effectiveness. *George Lucas Educational Foundation *www.edutopia.org* GLEF provides a summary of project-based learning research, along with a gallery of project examples (in print and video versions). *The Multimedia Project: Project-Based Learning with Multimedia *http://pblmm.k12.ca.us/PBLGuide/MMrubric.htm* Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project, federally funded project which ran from 1996-2001, is described in detail and explained in the larger context of a systemic school reform initiative in Silicon Valley. Site includes array of resources, including implementation strategies, award-winning project examples, and evaluation published by SRI. *National Foundation for the Improvement of Education *http://www.nfie.org/publications/ctb5.pdf* Connecting the Bits (2000) includes a chapter on "Project-Based Learning and Information Technologies." *The Project Approach *http://www.project-approach.com* Maintained by Sylvia Chard, professor at University of Alberta and co-author of Engaging Children's Minds: The Project Approach (2000).
* *
*References *

_Project-based learning research_. Edutopia. www.edutopia.org* Intel® Teach to the Future. (2003). _Project-based classroom: Bridging the gap between education and technology_. Training materials for regional and master trainers. Author. Jarrett, D. (1997). _Inquiry strategies for science and mathematics learning_. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. http://www.nwrel.org/msec/images/resources/justgood/05.97.pdf* _Project-based instruction: Creating excitement for learning_. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory. http://www.nwrel.org/request/2002aug/index.html* SRI International. (2000, January). _Silicon valley challenge 2000: Year 4 Report_. San Jose, CA: Joint Venture, Silicon Valley Network. http://pblmm.k12.ca.us/sri/Reports.htm* Thomas, J.W. (1998). _Project-based learning: Overview_. Novato, CA: Buck Institute for Education. Thomas, J.W. (2000). _A review of research on project-based learning_. San Rafael, CA: Autodesk. http://www.k12reform.org/foundation/pbl/research*

Michael Glassman wrote:
Maybe it would be important to define Project Based Learning.  I assumed that Andy was talking about the type of learning for instance promoted by Reggio Emilia (for younger children) and Perhaps the (early at least) Dewey school at the University of Chicago (which seemed to have influenced Reggio Emilia).  In this form of Project Based Learning it is the students who initiate the project, based on their everyday experiences (this is where Reggio Emilia brings Vygotsky in a little bit I think).  Whether the project continues is based on the continuing interests of the students, with the teacher serving as a facilitator.  For older students the projects usually have a connection (but are not determined) by needs in their world and the community.  For younger students the interest is more hedonistic.  One early childhood project I wrote about was in an infant and toddlers class, based on construction, and it went on for months is a very fascinating manner.
Is this what you meant Andy? Michael


From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu on behalf of ERIC.RAMBERG@spps.org
Sent: Thu 9/3/2009 11:51 AM
To: ablunden@mira.net; eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Project Based Learning

Hey Andy:

I have been in schools that utilize this and have seen mixed results. When
a very powerful PTA assists in the organization of a project and parents
spend their time tying up loose ends I have seen $25,000 playgrounds
built!  Students were incorporated into the project in various ways and
then they earned school credits based on portfolios that documented both
their participation as well as the progress of the project.  I have also
seen gardens become overgrown and left untended.

Here is a great website that provides insight into a specific project
based learning initiative:


A very worthwhile endeavor for helping to build social skills, teamwork
and a sense of craftmanship.

Andy Blunden <ablunden@mira.net>
Sent by: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu
09/03/2009 10:26 AM
Please respond to ablunden; Please respond to "eXtended Mind, Culture,

        To:     "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
        Subject:        [xmca] Project Based Learning

Can anyone give me an opinion on the value of Project-Based
Learning. Does it work (in other than privielegd schools)?
What are the main criticism?

Andy Blunden (Erythrós Press and Media)
Orders: http://www.erythrospress.com/store/main.html#books

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