Comparing Projects to Project-Based Learning Units (Thomas, 2000).
Traditional Classroom Projects PBL Units
Traditional classroom projects may ask
students to learn about a topic through
readings, worksheets, and direct teacher
instruction, then create a project that
demonstrates the learning that has occurred
through the unit. Traditional projects are
usually the result of learning that students
PBL is an approach that guides learning through driving
questions and student inquiry. The idea is to uncover or
discover the information needed to answer a question,
solve a problem or mystery, or to invent or create
something new. PBL projects are not simply the visible
result or culmination of learning, but rather the cause
Over the course of their inquiry, the task force uncovered many misconceptions about PBL that often
thwart Project-Based Learning efforts. They created the following table based on work from the Buck
Institute of Education to address common misconceptions about PBL.
Common Misconceptions About Project-Based Learning
PBL is not standards-based. It
focuses on “soft skills” such as
critical thinking and collaboration,
but ignores content.
Driving questions are aligned or derived from content standards.
Project-Based Learning marries critical thinking skills with rich
content - it cannot be taught independent of content. Studies
show that students can extend and explain their understanding
of content more deeply after participating in PBL units than in
traditional instructional methods.
PBL is the same as “making
something,” “hands on learning” or
“doing an activity.”
Artifacts and activities are only one part of Project-Based
Learning. A full PBL unit will have a variety of learning activities,
formative assessments and other engagements carefully
scaffolded throughout the unit.
PBLtakestoomuchtime Projects do take time, but it is time well spent. Teachers
frequently feel like there is more “upfront” planning with PBL
units although the “teaching part” becomes easier. Projects are
not an add-on activity for learning; they are the medium for
learning in PBL.
PBL is only for older students....or
younger students...or fluent English
speakers...or those who don’t have
PBL can be used with students from pre-school to post-
secondary. PBL can be scaffolded for students with varying
learning and language needs. In fact, PBL units offer inherent
opportunities for personalization of learning.