What is project-based learning?
To understand project-based learning, it is essential to start with content…
In the past, teachers were mainly teaching “pure” content: facts and data. Content focuses on memorization and rote learning. Content is “stuff we have to learn” as my pupils/students used to say.
Even though we know that we cannot get away from content (after all, most exams are still very much content-based), it is also true that content without context is extremely boring. Indeed, content-based teaching may not get beyond information transmission and/or superficial learning. Information is useless unless you can do something with it… That’s when “concepts” come in handy.
Concept-based learning is about big transferable ideas that transcend time, place and situation. Concepts are a way to organize and make sense of learning. The advantage of concept-based learning is that, even though we cannot possibly teach everything, we can teach the big ideas behind the content. Concept-based learning is a framework (a bit like a scaffolding) that will help study just about everything.
Content will change over time, but concepts will remain.
Concepts focus on making sense of facts, they help us make sense of the world around us: they are like prisms through which we can see the world in many different shades. Concepts allow us to decipher the world and to truly understand it. Concept-based learning is the framework often used in the MYP (Middle Years Programme). To get a clear understanding of concept-based learning as used in the MYP (often in international schools), click here.
Project-Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method focusing on concepts while at the same time making sure that the content falls into place like a giant jigsaw puzzle. Students/pupils learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects.
Students work on a project over an extended period of time that engages them in solving a real-world problem or answering a complex question (conceptual understanding). They demonstrate their knowledge and skills by creating a public product or presentation for a real audience.
As a result, students develop deep content knowledge as well as critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication skills. Project-Based Learning unleashes a contagious, creative energy among students and teachers.
A few examples of project-based learning for French…
- French / Grade 6 / Unit: clothes, colour, fashion
- Concept: “protection of the environment”
- Content: knowing colours, items of clothing, present tense and past tense (regular -er verbs for the passé composé).
- Peer assessment: Google form used by students and teachers.
- ATL: creativity and innovation, transfer, collaboration, reflection.
- Cultural aspects: fashion in France and Stromae.
- Project: students focused on their immediate environment and the problem of recycling in their school: during lesson time, they went through the paper bins at the school (hardest part) and tried to find paper, cardboard, plastic and anything that could help them create a piece of clothing. They developed their creativity, problem-solving skills, global citizenship, speaking (in public) and writing skills; they developed a greater environmental and in some cases cultural understanding.
- French / Grade 8 / Unit: francophonie and tribal masks
- Concept: “Can we develop a sense of community via art and persona?”
- Content: reflecting on language and culture, art and sense of community, representation and empathy.
- Peer assessment: Visit of our pop-up art gallery, questions and answers in French.
- ATL: reflection, information literacy, creativity.
- Cultural aspects: French speaking African countries where masks are being used for specific ceremonies.
- Project: students studied African masks, shapes, colours, patterns and meaning within ceremonial contexts; they created their own masks based on short stories and creative writing; they then presented their masks (in writing and in speaking) to an audience in our pop-up gallery.
- French / Grade 9 / Unit: sport and cultural aspects
- Conceptual, factual and debatable questions: “Why are we so preoccupied with our body?” / “When does a sport become an extreme sport?” / “Is it possible to do too much sport?”
- Content: presenting mini PE sessions in French with other students, teachers and parents invited to take part: the main ideas were reflecting on sports, national sports, sports and image in 2022, extreme sports and typical sports found in certain cultures only (pétanque).
- Peer assessment: forms used by students and teachers (paper version and clipboard).
- ATL: communication, collaboration, organisation, information literacy, creativity.
- Cultural aspects: sports and image, the value of sport in a well-balanced lifestyle.
- Project: students developed their collaboration, speaking and presentation skills; they also understood the impact of focusing on image only and the importance of leading a balanced lifestyle.
- French / Grade 10 / Unit: new technologies (paper books and e-books)
- Concept: “is progress always a good thing?”
- Content: reflecting on the current “worthlessness” of paper books (and recycling old paper books), the impact of paper books and e-books on us and the environment, their differences and the fact that both were/are revolutionary; what does the future holds for books (generally speaking)?
- Peer assessment: Google form used by students and teachers.
- ATL: reflection, information literacy, critical thinking, creativity.
- Cultural aspects: contemporary literature (Les combustibles d’Amélie Nothomb)
- Project: students focused on the relationship between format and impact, transforming something considered as “worthless” into something “priceless” (art expressing personal feelings and abstract ideas). They made a video that could be watched via a QR code; they developed their creativity, speaking, presentation and writing skills; they also developed a greater environmental and cultural understanding…
Those are just a few examples.
If you would like to share your own ideas, feel free to comment below.