OBJECTIVES FOR THIS DOCUMENT:
“Teachers who use learning projects in their classrooms know how incredibly motivating and engaging these projects can be for students. They also know how challenging projects can sometimes be – especially without clear guidance in how best to plan, organize, set up, launch, lead, manage, and make the most of all the moving parts in a rich learning project.”
“Understanding how projects work and how to effectively support, manage, and lead a variety of learning projects enables teachers and students to focus more on each student’s learning goals and get the most out of each and every project for each and every learner.”
Project-Based Learning (PBL) and project management professionals themselves bring invaluable tools into the ongoing community discussion on education. “Good” PBL – which gives students the opportunity to build and explore project management skills as part of the learning project – offers an integrated approach to learning that provides opportunities for students to develop and practice a range of skills and competencies simultaneously, in alignment with new standards that are in place in most states (such as the Common Core State Standards). At the same time, project managers and other business and community professionals can lend an expert perspective that is often missing from conversations about education reform and technical experience to educators who will actually implement PBL in the classroom.
The Toolkit is designed to help community leaders work together to build support for integrating PBL and project management into their local schools and partnering with educators to implement learning projects in the classroom. Most of the documents in this toolkit accomplish those tasks by providing essential background knowledge about education and tools for community engagement that many professionals may not already possess. This document has a slightly different purpose: to arm stakeholders and intermediary organizations with a set of key messages about PBL that they can use to prepare for focused conversations with educators about Project-Based Learning.
Following are short, powerful message summaries, addressed to educators, that highlight how PBL can help teachers and administrators reach their goals. These messages will be valuable tools for talking with education administrators and teachers about the value of PBL and how it has been successfully implemented in the classroom. By using language that is familiar in the education sector, they will help to “translate” these concepts for an audience that is not steeped in “project-management-speak.”
Please note that project management professionals and other stakeholders are NOT being asked to provide training on project management or PBL to educators as part of this outreach. These key messages are only snapshots to help to share the benefits of PBL and project management to educational transformation. The PMI Educational Foundation offers workshops and written resources on PBL that are targeted to educators. See the resource document “Helpful Project-Based Learning Resources for Educators” for more information about these and many other useful resources.
WHAT IS PROJECT MANAGEMENT?
The Project Management Institute Education Foundation (PMIEF) defines project management as “applying knowledge, skills, and resources to accomplish activities that are intended to achieve a specific goal”. It includes a set of usual practices and tools, but it is often as much an art as a science, because each project is different and every project is dynamic.” Trained project managers are able to approach a project systematically by breaking it down into different stages and steps, and guide it through its life cycle to successful completion.
Projects are a daily part of everyone’s lives, from work to home life to education. PMIEF also delineates two key qualities for projects that are useful to keep in mind:
- Projects are temporary efforts with a clear start and finish – they are not ongoing.
- Projects have an end result – something created or completed, that is often unique.
Learning projects consist of four phases:
Students might be working on more than one at any given point in the project lifecycle. Projects also often mix different subjects, just as in real life; a single learning project might encompass art, science, marketing, and community service.
PROJECT-BASED LEARNING IS A POWERFUL APPROACH TO LEARNING ESSENTIAL 21ST CENTURY SKILLS
Project-Based Learning, or using “learning projects” as a part of formal education, has proven to be an excellent approach to help students to build the learning and innovation, digital literacy, and career and life skills that are increasingly recognized as essential to work and live today. This is because learning projects are sequences of learning experiences that give students lots of opportunities to practice and improve all of their skills, while engaging in meaningful, real-world work that addresses compelling questions and problems.
The benefits of PBL apply as much to the “4C’s” – Critical thinking, Collaborating, Communicating and Creative problem solving – as to the technical mastery, life and career skills, and core subjects that are also part of the 21st Century Skills Framework. Perhaps most importantly, project management is a universal business skill that is practiced in all industries and a skill set that is in high demand by employers.
PROJECT-BASED LEARNING HAS MANY BENEFITS FOR STUDENTS, TEACHERS, AND SCHOOLS
Research in recent years across several academic subjects has shown that PBL is a highly effective method to help students learn content, process, presentation, and problem-solving skills. In a Stanford University review of the accumulated research on learning methods used in projects, PBL has been shown to help students:
Learn more deeply when they apply their knowledge to real-world problems.
Participate and contribute in tasks that require sustained engagement and collaboration.
Achieve higher levels of academic performance and personal development, regardless of the student’s background or prior academic record.
Become more successful by learning how to learn as well as what to learn.
Many teachers can also attest to the way that projects can engage and motivate students with their learning, especially those who do not do as well with “traditional” classroom learning methods. Learning projects, when done well, allow students to shape their own learning as they make choices throughout the process.
At the same time, PBL and Work-Based Learning can help schools to:
expand curriculum and extend learning facilities,
gain access to workplace techniques and technology,
better meet the needs of diverse student populations,
make education more relevant and valuable for students,
give students opportunities to experience work
environments, and improve retention and graduation rates.
The National Academy Foundation includes PBL in its curricula for career academies, designing one major and one minor project per course, because it a) motivates students, b) improves learning and retention, c) leads to in-depth understanding, d) provides opportunities to use appropriate technology, and e) connects school to the workplace and the larger world.
PBL IS A KEY APPROACH ALIGNED WITH COMMON CORE AND OTHER STATE STANDARDS
Common Core is now being implemented in most states, and those that chose not to do so have largely developed similar goals (though in some cases with different methods). CCSS is an ambitious set of standards with important differences from what came before, but the “how” of implementation – including curricula, teaching methods, materials, and assessment – is still left to states and local school districts. Meaningful learning projects, with their emphasis on actively exploring significant content and practicing 21st Century competencies as part of teams, are an important instructional strategy for educators to help students master the learning and experiences that they need to meet these standards. Most of all, they reflect the important shift in instruction from the delivery of information to inquiry.
Moreover, Project-Based Learning aligns extremely well with the specific standards themselves described in Common Core. Both the Mathematics and English Language Arts standards emphasize inquiry, using learned concepts and procedures in authentic contexts, collaboration, real-world problem solving, and communicating learning for students. All of these values are echoed in PBL.
MEANINGFUL PROJECTS REQUIRE REQUIRE THOUGHTFUL PLANNING
However, not all projects are created equal. Meaningful learning comes from meaningful projects – those that are thoughtfully designed to engage students in exploring and practicing the content area at hand through the process of conducting the project, regardless of the resulting product. The Buck Institute for Education identifies eight “essential elements” of meaningful projects:
- Significant content
- A compelling “need to know”
- A driving question
- Student voice and choice
- Opportunities to build 21st Century competencies, such as collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and creativity
- In-depth inquiry – finding answers leads to more questions
- Critique and revision
- A public audience for reporting outcomes
Moreover, effective learning projects and PBL curricula must integrate opportunities for learning and practicing project management skills.
Developing projects of this caliber requires a lot of advance planning by teachers. This is doubly so when projects combine different subject areas – such as core academic subjects and career themed courses (math and engineering or technology; writing and business; etc) – that require collaboration between teachers. Fortunately, there are many resources to help with this responsibility, including reams of template projects from different sources and having available project managers to assist.
PROJECT MANAGERS ARE EXCELLENT RESOURCES FOR EDUCATORS
When developing and using learning projects in the classroom, there are no better resources than consulting with an experienced professional. There are more than 700,000 certified professional project managers in the world working in every field and in every kind of organization. They not only understand how projects work in the “real world,” but are also often passionate about the utility of project management processes for solving important problems. And in addition to lending their expertise to help implement effective learning projects, they also can offer to students their insights about building careers in their individual fields.
Experienced Project Managers can be helpful in the classroom in many important ways:
Helping to plan projects and lesson plans.
Translating “project management” language to everyday terminology and vice versa.
Helping teachers and students to understand technical subject matter and language.
Developing scoring methods for projects.
Creating and adapting project templates and forms.
Speaking to students about Project Management concepts and techniques.
Taking the lead on explaining project assignments.
Assist with facilitating learning projects.
Helping teachers and students with certain elements of conducting projects.
Working with students on their project plans.
Listening to project presentations.
Advising students one-on-one.
Talking to students about their careers, their fields, and how project management skills are transferable to the workplace.
Hosting students for site visits and internships within the workplace.
PMIEF SCHOLARSHIPS ARE OFTEN AVAILABLE FOR TEACHER TRAINING AND STUDENT SCHOLARSHIPS
PMIEF provides hundreds of scholarships directly to teachers and administrators who wish to learn more about the fundamentals of project management and/or work towards their own certification. Some scholarships can be applied directly to courses offered by the Project Management Institute, while others can be used for a relevant course at any college or university.
Additionally, teachers may be interested to share information about student scholarships, grants, and awards available for study in degree programs in project management and related fields. The PMIEF Scholarships, Grants, and Awards portal guides applicants through the process and matches them with the ones for which they are eligible.
The key messages above offer a very brief primer on project management and PBL, alongside a set of persuasive facts and statements about the value of PBL. Since they use language familiar to educators, they will be very useful in explaining the concepts and benefits of these frameworks to that essential audience. Also in the Toolkit is a separate document, “Helpful Project-Based Learning Resources for Educators
,” that lists a set of resources where educators to learn more about these concepts and which can be shared directly with educational and other contacts.