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A Guide to Project-Based Learning (PBL) for IB Learners

Project-based learning (PBL) is a phrase often heard within schools that teach alongside the IB curriculum, and both of them emphasize deep conceptual understanding.

When we say PBL though, what do we really mean? And better yet, how do we effectively implement this in the classroom? Let’s take a look in a bit more detail, and explore how you can try out this technique in your classroom.

What’s Project-Based Learning?

PBL is all about “big transferable ideas” rather than subject-specific content. This is different to traditional teaching where there is a focus on understanding and memorization. PBL supports the IB’s learner profile attributes and is all about considering how students will learn, bringing real world meaning to content knowledge and skills. It’s all about driving questions which align student work to a relevant issue or problem.

PBL aims to support students with a lifetime of learning, independently and in tandem with others. Also, it encourages students to consider global challenges through inquiry, action, and reflection. Essentially, that’s what PBL is all about… the learners. Due to this, PBL can also support individualized learning. The IB programs aim to encourage students to be active, compassionate and lifelong learners. This means PBL and inquiry-based learning support education in being holistic, with the student’s whole development in mind. Also, with this, a balance between cognitive development as well as wellbeing.

PBL aligns with design thinking, which the IB has written about. Design thinking is all about incorporating users’ needs into the project and design process. Design thinking can work in a number of ways but ultimately, it supports learners with applying the knowledge and skills they have learned to go and take meaningful action. Read more about this here.

In this way, PBL can involve certain steps such as communicating with other students, identifying a goal, making an action plan, giving out duties, putting together a plan and then analyzing any outcomes, which are all important life skills for the future.

Why PBL?

These days, there are many professions that don’t simply rely on knowledge and facts – the development of a learner is equally important.

Think about it…

  • Scientists need to develop creativity.
  • Scientists still need to problem solve.
  • Scientists may need to work as a team.

This type of instruction is designed to work in global contexts. Students gain understanding of language and culture, and it also helps with global and local engagement, including challenges and issues.

Aims of PBL

With PBL, students develop skills they will likely need for the demands of the 21st century. For instance, critical thinking, collaborative work and problem-solving are all skills that come from it.  As the IB and PBL aim to encourage students to engage with real world problems and do work that is real to them, students who have these universal themes in their classroom are supported with:

  • Creating connections with students’ past experiences.
  • Learning being more relevant to experiences.
  • Promoting a more in-depth knowledge of content.
  • Helping students to take action with their learning.

Implementing PBL in the Classroom

So now we’ve explored PBL in more detail, it’s time to find out how we can implement PBL more effectively in the classroom.

When you’ve decided on a driving question for students to explore – which is ideal for creating a culture of thinking that allows students to see alternative ways of thinking – your lesson could flow like this.

  1. You put forward a “research question” which is the concept of the project.
  2. You then task students to answer that question through a variety of methods such as dance or music.
  3. Finally, students bridge their learning experiences to support their learning of the knowledge, whilst perhaps tests that may be set will identify learning targets and understanding.

Overall, the project-based learning that goes hand-in-hand with the IB promotes ties in students’ emotions and knowledge. This can be to a better degree than the demands of a curriculum which is more traditional and purely fact-based to prepare students for exams. Students can use the knowledge they have learnt from PBL in learning other subject areas.

Students are not only now better set to make links with their own experiences in the present and the wider world, but also when looking to the future. Students use their personal experiences to engage with their learning and what they know to answer a driving question. With this, they will become more interested in their studies and in using their own knowledge to support their understanding. This will aid their student development in a holistic way, and prepare them to be lifelong learners.

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