Project-based learning (PBL) is happening in classrooms all over the world.  Sort of.  I see a lot of kids ‘doing projects’.  Teachers design them.  Teachers create checklists of the process.  Teachers give timelines and ‘check in’ points. The kids immediately Google the topic, grab the information, reword it, toss in some stolen graphics and push forward to ‘get it done’.  The focus, for the student, often really becomes ‘getting it done’.

I see project assignments for kids who have Individual Education Plans (IEPs) where the work is incredibly ‘chunked’ and scaffolded.  These assignments are often more scripted with lists of things to do accompanied by check boxes to ‘help’ the students stay on track.

Oh, I know, that is the extreme scenario! Cut me some slack…just describing the extreme to make a point! 🙂

And please don’t get me wrong. ‘Chunking’ and ‘scaffolding’ are exceptionally useful techniques…and, I love effective PBL, but, I have issues with projects becoming worksheets.  I have seen this pattern before.  (One of the great, and lousy things, about getting older!  LOL)

It reminds me of the days of ‘learning centres’ back in the seventies when the idea was that kids would move to various centres in the classroom to engage in constructive learning activities.  Conceptually great.  Implementation poor…generally speaking.  Kids were often seen rotating from one centre to the other after a prescribed amount of time doing, what often appeared to be ‘worksheet type’ activities – SRA Reading lab, penmanship (printing or writing), math dittos – and, oh yes, the occasional ‘listening centre’.


I think that the basic issue here is one of inherent belief structure of the educators and the system in which they are immersed.  When new educational practices are ‘rolled out’ in school systems, some time is spent on the overall philosophy and much time is spent on the pragmatic implementation in the classrooms.  The former is often ‘watered down’ and the latter is often prescriptive and scripted.  This leads to a ‘conceptual drift’.  The original idea, in this case ‘project based learning’, loses the philosophical essence in favour of following the prescription.  What was originally a powerful, deep, philosophically bound approach has drifted to some skeleton of itself.



Please check out this page outlining effective PBL.