What is Project-Based Learning?
Learning by creating a tangible project is one of the best ways to build a new skill, explore new opportunities, and discover what you enjoy.
Rather than focusing on getting specific subjects done lesson by lesson, project-based learning uses completed projects as educational mile-markers. This approach gives students physical representations of the skills they have built, and a sense of satisfaction in their creation ability at the end of every project.
The best part about project-based learning is that it can be plugged into many different homeschool methods. Into roadschooling? Add a couple projects related to your travels. Like a highly-structured approach? Include small projects as assignments. Unschooling? Help your kids craft projects that are related to the interests you see them building.
How to Build a Project Around a Learning Objective
There are two ways to use a project as a learning opportunity:
1. Use the project as the end goal.
2. Use the project to get to a goal.
When you use the project as an end goal, you focus on learning whatever you can to get the project done. An example of this would be “I’m going to build a tepee.” Then you’d study tepee-building techniques, learn about American Indians and their survival skills, build a science journal documenting what you need, and go on a field trip to source the building materials you need. Each of these skills and experiences would be a byproduct of your end goal: building a tepee. This is a great way to help a child or teen who has big ideas but needs some guidance on actually putting them into action.
Using a project to get to an end goal is slightly different. With this approach, a specific skillset is often an end goal, and the project is simply a way to get to that goal. A great example of this would be “I want to build writing skills.” Then you’d put together a project idea based on this goal: maybe you’d plan to publish a book, put together a creative writing journal, or use one prompt per day to push your writing ability to the next level. The options are endless!
If you’re helping a younger child learn, I highly recommend focusing on the first method of project-based learning. Watch any child at play and you’ll see they learn quickly and easily when they have a specific project to learn by! The second method is great to implement with an older child or a teen who really wants to focus on building a specific skill.
Using the Project As the End Goal
I’m convinced that projects teach you a combination of more skills than anything else can. Most of the time, you won’t even know the skills you’re building until you look back on the project.
I coach the Philosophy module at Praxis. Instead of just studying philosophy, we focus each week around a project: a video that relates to the concepts we covered in the week’s worth of content. Every participant that comes through this module is amazed at the skills they build just by creating something to go along with the information they’re studying.
- They build public speaking and debate abilities.
- They figure out basic video editing.
- They learn how to boil a big idea down into concepts that anyone can understand (sales!).
- They learn to quickly pick out what makes a good and bad video.
- They begin to understand basic filming technique like lighting, posture, enunciation, and much more.
After making one video every week for a month, participants at Praxis suddenly realize how much they have learned from the video creation!
1. Do you or your child have a great idea for something to create? That’s your project.
2. Expand on the project idea, brainstorming the possible skills that can be gained from it.
3. Build a plan that will help your child maximize on the skills they can gain from the project.
4. Figure out a daily and weekly action plan and goals that you can work toward.
5. Document the project at each step of the way. A good completed project has plenty of documentation to go with it, whether it’s a little science journal, a slideshow with videos showing progress, or a write-up that showcases what your child has completed.
Using the Project to Get to a Goal
Projects make learning fun again! They’re also easier to showcase than tests and other methods of scoring learning ability, and they’re much more pleasant to look back on.
Using this method of project building requires you (or your child) to be highly goal-oriented. It means that you need to see past the project you are creating to the end goal of the skillset you will have built in the end.
In my work at Praxis, I always look for opportunities to branch out and learn new things that make me more valuable both to the company and otherwise.
I’ve always wanted to build a skillset in video editing, but that dream never got past the “great idea” stage in my mind. But when an opportunity came around to film and edit the Office Hours Podcast, I recognized that this was my opportunity to fulfill my dream of getting into video editing.
So I took on the project of producing this podcast. I made a lot of mistakes, stressed out some, and watched countless Youtube videos. But by now I’ve had over 50 hours of editing experience with Premiere Pro, having worked on anything from simple social media videos to ads to podcast episodes. I’ve still got a long way to go, but this project helped my dream of being a video editor come true.
1. Determine the goal. Here’s how to set goals that you can actually achieve!
2. Break the goal down into manageable chunks depending on the child’s age and experience level.
3. Brainstorm 3-5 possible project ideas with your child.
4. After letting the project ideas sit for a little, narrow the project ideas down to the one that you both like the best!
5. Break the project up into daily and weekly goals that you can keep track of.
6. Don’t forget to document the project as you build it! This is the fun part- make a daily drawing of where you are in the project if it’s applicable. Take a picture every day of the child with the project. Let them make short videos talking about what they learned in the process. The options are endless!
A couple final thoughts
I’ve laid out a step-by-step plan that can be used for a 6-month-long project like a research paper on a topic your child is passionate about. But it can also be applied to a field trip that you’re taking to a science museum for another child with a curious mind.
I’ve geared this article toward homeschool moms looking for ways to teach their kids new skills via projects. But this method is applicable to projects you’re completing for yourself as well. Projects don’t stop when you turn 18 and graduate. In fact, they give you a method for teaching yourself anything, anytime in life!
My point is that project-based learning is a mindset and a way of life, not just an educational plug-in. That’s why it’s so valuable.