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How Project-Based Learning works and what it teaches students

Kids project based learning

Key takeaways:

  • Project-Based Learning (PBL) helps students identify real-world issues
  • Students may research solutions to problems and present their findings, citing evidence to back up their conclusions
  • PBL is designed for students to be more actively engaged in learning 
  • PBL involves multiple subjects being studied at once 
  • Project-Based Learning helps students develop employable, 21st Century skills
  • PBL encourages the development of soft skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and teamwork

Many teaching methods have been designed to help students learn. There’s almost always a debate about which is the most effective, too. 

Project-Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method that is gaining traction in academia. This method seeks to promote higher student engagement while helping students build essential life skills like problem-solving, critical thinking, and communication.

We discuss how PBL works, the elements involved, and why it can help students achieve better academic success and career success.

Defining Project-Based Learning

PBL is more of a framework for learning rather than simply a teaching method. According to Edutopia, “PBL is the act of learning through identifying a real-world problem and developing its solution. Kids show what they learn as they journey through the unit, not just at the end.”

Students must research real-world problems and develop solutions to solve them with PBL. At the end, they present their findings and provide supporting evidence for any claims.

To give greater context, PBL is designed in a way that students are continually learning about various subjects at the same time. They should complete several steps when utilizing PBL:

1. Identify a real-world issue 

2. Conduct research into the problem

3. Develop evidence-based solutions to support their claims

4. Present the solution using a 21st century, multi-media approach

Because of the nature of its process, PBL can involve many different subjects at the same time. Students learn by actively interacting and engaging with lessons throughout a project, rather than simply listening to a lecture or reading a textbook.


Core components of Project-Based Learning

PBL typically includes several different units and core components. They are: 

  1. Content knowledge and skills – This unit helps students gain knowledge across many different subjects. They will also acquire new skills that adults need in the real world.
  2. Authenticity and relevance to a real-world problem – Students often become disengaged because lessons don’t seem to apply to them. PBL addresses specific issues that affect communities, locally and globally. This helps students relate and become more engaged.
  3. Inquiry – Asking questions is a basic human instinct. We want to know “why.” Inquiry is a major phase of PBL and helps students organize tasks.
  4. Student voice and choice – PBL provides opportunities for students to develop solutions for problems as a group and individually, based on their talents and interests.
  5. Collaboration – Teamwork is one of the most essential elements of Project-Based Learning. PBL is designed to encourage collaboration in different ways. Students learn to cooperate and unite to solve the problems while still having individual accountability.
  6. Employable skills - Employable skills – often called “soft skills” – are essential in the workplace. They include critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, teamwork, self-direction, persistence, and leadership. These skills make it possible to be a good employee and co-worker. 
  7. Community partners – Community partners play a big role in PBL, providing feedback and assessments and assisting during final evaluations.
  8. Feedback and revision – Throughout the PBL process, students receive feedback from teachers, mentors, other students, and community partners. This feedback allows them to make changes and revisions to improve the final presentation.
  9. Public presentation – At the end of the unit, students must exhibit and present their findings and solutions to an audience that may include teachers, classmates, mentors, and community partners. 
  10. Reflection – PBL includes periodic downtimes used to reevaluate and reflect on what students have learned, their progress, and findings.


Other elements can be incorporated as well, including:

  • Role-playing
  • Real-world scenarios
  • Blended writing genres
  • Multiple reading genres
  • Authentic assessmentsAuthentic audiences
  • Real-world expertise brought into the classroom
  • Units that assess multiple skills
  • Units that require research & comprehension of multiple subjects
  • Student choice
  • Collaboration
  • Multiple methods of communication (writing, oral speaking, visual presentations, publishing, etc.)

It’s not necessary to include every element but PBL should consist of multiple components. Ultimately, the goal is to prepare students for the future. PBL veers away from standardized methods of teaching, which don’t account for the many different ways children learn. PBL helps foster innovation, creativity, and ingenuity.


Creating learning stories in the classroom

Ultimately, PBL is not meant to substitute for core curriculum or lessons such as math, science, history, or English. It does, however, provide a creative and engaging way to communicate lessons. It calls for active learning in which students work together to solve problems and then present their findings and solutions.  

American Heritage Schools use various methods, such as PBL, to ensure our students gain the knowledge and soft skills that are necessary for a successful career and future. 


American Heritage Schools is a leader in private education, academic excellence, and innovation. With two 40 acre campuses, one in Broward County and the other in Palm Beach County, Florida, we serve 4,600 students grades Pre-K 3 through 12. American Heritage Schools was recently named the #1 Private School for academic success with the highest number of National Merit Scholars of all private schools in the nation. For over 55 years, our mission of knowledge, integrity, and compassion through developing the full potential of each child to be an active, intelligent, creative, and contributing member of society. Contact an admissions director for more information or sign up for a campus tour.