Do You Really Know What Project-Based Learning Is?

By Liana Loewus — January 03, 2013 | Updated: September 20, 2021 1 min read
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Updated: A video originally appeared on this page. It is no longer available.

NPR’s Mind/Shift has a nice, lucid explanation of the difference between project-based learning and project-oriented learning. Not that I’ve spent much time contemplating the terms—or even really knew the latter one. But turns out the distinction is pretty important.

According to the post, Azul Terronez, an 8th grade humanities teacher at High Tech Middle in San Diego, explains that within project-based learning, students explore and make discoveries (i.e., learn) through the project itself. Terronez believes that many educators think that they are doing PBL when they teach a unit and then end it with a hands-on project—but in fact they are actually doing project-oriented learning. Terronez says kids recognize this as busy work. “They don’t see it as learning; they see it as something else to do,” said Terronez.

The goal of PBL should be to create something that has value in the real world, not just to get a grade.

Terronez has his students create iPad applications, configure their classroom, and build hovercrafts. Interestingly, I know people who do all of these “projects” in their daily jobs. (NASA just makes really big hovercrafts.) Since the Common Core State Standards are all about college- and career-readiness, it seems like PBL could be a good fit. But can schools adapt?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.