Project-based learning (PBL) is one of REALM Charter School’s main strategies to increase academic achievement, so we wanted to put together an overview of PBL that answers the most frequently asked questions.  In this post, we share the benefits, history and examples of PBL.  Read on to learn more and if you have any questions about how we use project-based learning at Realm Charter, please contact us.


What is project-based learning?

Students work on a project over an extended period of time – from a week up to a semester – that engages them in solving a real-world problem or answering a complex question. They demonstrate their knowledge and skills by developing a public product or presentation for a real audience.
As a result, students develop deep content knowledge as well as critical thinking, creativity, and communication skills in the context of doing an authentic, meaningful project. Project Based Learning unleashes a contagious, creative energy among students and teachers.


What are the benefits of project-based learning?

Research shows that, in PBL, learners actively use what they know to explore, negotiate, interpret, and create (Dochy, Segers, Van den Boss Leary, 2008). Through PBL, students develop a better capability to integrate and explain concepts (Capon and Kuhn, 2004), which prepares students for future learning (Schwartz and Martin, 2004).
Ultimately, PBL has been shown to improve students’ mastery of 21st-century skills (Cognition and Technology Group at Vanderbilt, 1992, Hmelo, 1998, Gallagher, Stepien and Rosenthal, 1992).
Research shows that, in PBL, learners actively use what they know to explore, negotiate, interpret, and create (Dochy, Segers, Van den Boss Leary, 2008). Through PBL, students develop a better capability to integrate and explain concepts (Capon and Kuhn, 2004), which prepares students for future learning (Schwartz and Martin, 2004).
Furthermore, project-based learning has been shown to engage students (Boaler, 1992), cut absenteeism (Creghan and Adair-Creghan, 2015), boost cooperative learning skills, improve standardized test scores (Geier, Blumenfeld, Marx, et al., 2008), and increase academic achievement (Geier, Blumenfeld, Marx, Krajcik, Fishman, Soloway, & Clay-Chambers, 2008, Mergendoller, Maxwell and Bellisimo 2007, Hickey, Kindfield, Horwitz and Christie, 1999, Lynch, Kuipers, Pyke and Szesze, 2005, Walker and Leary, 2008).


What are some examples of project-based learning?

 Here are some great examples of project-based learning we collected from across the Internet:
  • Create an interactive family tree with voice-overs from living family members
  • Using the best thinking of major world civilizations, design the perfect civilization. Identify critical characteristics, resources, and habits, etc.
  • Help local businesses increase environmental sustainability (e.g., reduce waste)
  • Shrinking potato chip bags in the microwave. Students can learn about polymers through hands-on activities using some of their favorite products, like shoes and sporting equipment. As a culminating activity, they can put a wrapper from their favorite chips or candy bar into the microwave for five seconds to learn about how polymers return to their natural state when exposed to the heat.
  • Design an app. Students love using the newest apps and games, so take it to the next level by having them design their own! With Apple developer tools, kids can learn how to create an app or online game. They can learn about technology and problem-solving skills while engaged in what they love.
  • Student farm. Students will learn lessons about science, social studies, math, and economics through planting their own organic farm. They can begin by researching the crops they want, figure out what kind of care is needed, and then use a budget to determine what materials they must purchase. They can even sell food from their farm to contribute to a cause or fundraiser.
  • Geocaching. If you’re not able to take your students off-campus to engage in some real-life “geocaching,” you can always create your own geocaching treasure hunt for them. It can incorporate all kinds of skills and knowledge: geography, math, and even essay writing.
Not to be outdone, here is an example of PBL from Realm:
REALM’s students design and build functional projects on a regular basis. Working cooperatively in their Design & Build center, students imagine, design, test and build furniture, artwork, and even A COUPLE OF SOLAR-POWERED TINY HOME (as featured in Tiny House Design) one of which is currently used for transitional housing for homeless people in Eugene, OR. The other was sold on eBay, and proceeds from the sale helped the REALM students pay for the wood and other materials they used in the project. From the beginning, students work together in teams to create useful and beautifully functional projects. We dropped in on a class that was working on constructing some new desks for the new REALM Middle School building which is opening in the fall of REALM Charter School’s 2018-19 school year.


Where can I find project-based learning resources?

From the Buck Institute:


What is the history of project-based learning?

The history of project-based learning is the same as the history of the world because humans have always learned by doing.  Some of the greatest minds in the world were strong advocates for “learning by doing”.
From Edutopia,
Confucius and Aristotle were early proponents of learning by doing. Socrates modeled how to learn through questioning, inquiry, and critical thinking — all strategies that remain very relevant in today’s PBL classrooms. Fast-forward to John Dewey, 20th-century American educational theorist and philosopher, and we hear a ringing endorsement for learning that’s grounded in experience and driven by student interest. Dewey challenged the traditional view of the student as a passive recipient of knowledge (and the teacher as the transmitter of a static body of facts). He argued instead for active experiences that prepare students for ongoing learning about a dynamic world. As Dewey pointed out, “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”
As we move into the 21st century the case for project-based learning has become even stronger.  From the Buck Institute,
The roots of PBL lie in this (historical) tradition. But the emergence of a method of teaching and learning called Project Based Learning is the result of two important developments over the last 25 years. First, there has been a revolution in learning theory. Research in neuroscience and psychology has extended cognitive and behavioral models of learning—which support traditional direct instruction—to show that knowledge, thinking, doing, and the contexts for learning are inextricably tied. We now know that learning is partly a social activity; it takes place within the context of culture, community, and past experiences. This is apparent in research on problem-based learning in the medical field, an important forerunner of PBL.


If you are interested in project-based learning for your child, please contact us at to learn more and see how your child can benefit.

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