Week 8: How does project-based-learning lend itself to differentiation in the classroom?

Before I can answer this question I need to define project-based learning (PBL). According to Grant, “Project-based learning is an instructional method centered on the learner,” (2002). Getting away from lessons that are focused around specific outcomes, PBL gives the students a project to do that they can expand on their own. This personalizes their lessons and makes it so that they are self-motivated since they get to create the projects to best suit themselves, their own personal needs and interests as well. Brown then spoke about the connection to technology. This is a new day and age. Our world has moved into the techno age. We need to be able to keep up and so do our students. The majority of them will need to be able to use technology in their jobs when they are adults, so teaching them how to learn in “social networks” is very important no matter what your background or ability. (2008)

“In addition to teaching core content and raising awareness, PBL projects train students to take complex global issues and break them down into specific local action steps,” (Solomon, 2003). Not only do the students feel empowered but they also feel that what they are doing matters and can make a difference (which it can). I took a STEM class last spring through UAS and we did a PBL model where we were looking at the Monster Lobe (Hopkins, 2012). Not only were we coming up with innovative ideas to help out this difficult situation, we were also working as a community to deal with an issue in our own state. If you want to see some of what we did here is a power point presentation: https://diffimooc.wikispaces.com/file/view/The+Monster+Lobe.pptx

Harris goes deeper and compares both PBL and direct instruction. Through surveys she was able to discover that students who used the PBL model were able to think more indepth on the topics that were instructed. Since they were more invested in their projects, on a personal level, they were able to differentiate their own lessons as they progressed through addressing students in all areas of learning. (2015)

“PBL projects are focused on questions or problems that “drive” students to encounter (and struggle with) the central concepts and principles of a discipline” (Thomas, 2000, p 3). This gives every child a way to approach it at whatever angle they come up with. This allows for differentiation since there are unlimited ways to address any given question. Thomas goes on to state that research is so new on PBL that we need to put our efforts into more research on this type of learning. (pp. 35-36) There are mixed results in comparison with the traditional approach. Though research from Zouganell, Tyssø, Feng, Arnesen, and Kapetanovi showed that there are positives to this ongoing research, it allowed them to see gaps they needed to fill in order to meet all student needs. For example, they didn’t realize there were students who would have enjoyed doing more excersices, so they added them on the following year for those higher acheivers. (2014) Teachers are constantly readdressing how they teach, with the PBL model it just naturally assists in helping us to see that we are differentiating for all students.

Brown, J. & Adler, R. (2008). Minds on Fire. Retrieved from http://ngw.cs.colorado.edu


Grant, M. (2002). Getting A Grip on Project-Based Learning: Theory, Cases and

Recommendations. Meridian, 5(1). Retrieved from http://www.ncsu.edu/meridian/win2002/514/project-based.pdf

Harris, D. (2015, June 30). Meeting the Needs of Students with Varied Learning Styles Through

Project-Based Learning. Retrieved from http://csusm-dspace.calstate.edu/handle/10211.3/122029

Hopkins, K. (2012, Dec. 1). Frozen Landslide threatens to devour Dalton Highway. Alaska

Dispatch. Retrieved from http://www.adn.com/article/20121201/frozen-landslide-threatens-devour-dalton-highway

Solomon, G. (2003, Jan. 15). Project-Based Learning: a Primer. Retrieved from


Thomas, J. W. (2000, March). A Review of Research on Project-Based Learning. Retrieved

from http://www.newtechnetwork.org.590elmp01.blackmesh.com/sites/default/files/dr/pblresearch2.pdf

Zouganeli, E., Tyssø, V., Feng, B., Arnesen, K., & Kapetanovic, N. (2014). Project-Based

Learning in Programming Classes – the Effect of Open Project Scope on Student Motivation and Learning Outcome. Retrieved from https://oda.hio.no/jspui/bitstream/10642/2318/1/1152690.pdf


8 thoughts on “Week 8: How does project-based-learning lend itself to differentiation in the classroom?

  1. One of my blogs last semester in a class I took was all about the fact that we need to stay up with technology in order to teach our students technology efficiently. That aligns with what you talked about in the first paragraph. Staying up with technology is so important because that’s basically what most student’s jobs will base around when they get older and graduate from high school/college. I make my seventh graders take typing twice a week during their study hall, a little girl asked me the other day when she was going to use it in life. I wanted to be like, “REALLY?!?! Don’t you see me typing everyday?!” It amuses me how kids don’t see how things they learn that they see adults doing everyday is going to be beneficial to them. So I guess just like when teaching them math and them asking how this is going to be beneficial, we might have to do the same with technology even when it seems so obvious.

    “PBL projects are focused on questions or problems that “drive” students to encounter (and struggle with) the central concepts and principles of a discipline” (Thomas, 2000, p 3). This gives every child a way to approach it at whatever angle they come up with. Last week in the math class I am taking we watched a TED Talks video on youtube and it was basically about giving children different ways to approach a problem at whatever angle they come up with. The guy was saying how he would put a picture of an empty water jug on the board and just ask kids how they would figure out how long it would take to fill it. Kids could get a jug, fill it, and time it. They could come up with a mathematical formula. They could do whatever they wanted they just had to be able to come up with the answer. He also was saying how when we give kids the floor to approach the problem they will be a lot more open to discussing solutions because there is not only one right way.

    Enjoyed your blog! Have a good weekend!


    • Did you ask that little girl what she wanted to be when she grew up. I tend to do that, then I can really put it into their perspective. I can tell them the types of things they will be doing with technology for that profession, or even have the student look it up (dependent on that age). If they don’t know I ask them what the adult in the household does, then we’ll talk about how they use technology. I too love how open-ended PBL is. With so many different ways to approach and answers that can come from anywhere it really gives the kids a way to take ownership of their own learning and thinking.


  2. Sunshine I enjoyed your blog. I like how you mentioned that project-based learning often involves global issues and students feel like what they are doing matters and can make a difference. I have found that even with my 2nd graders if they feel empowered it can make a huge impact on their learning. I have heard really good things about the UAS STEM class and Monster Lobe project. I wonder if that class will be offered again and if it will qualify for my elective.


    • The STEM class was amazing! Wonderful teachers and amazing ways that they approached teaching the content. I hope you get the chance to take the course. I agree that kids really need to feel that their work means something for them to really want to put that effort into it.


  3. I believe that if we teach students how to use technology this will help them in the 21 century. Technology changes so fast. This is one reason why I took this class in hopes that I learn more on how to implement technology and pass that knowledge on to my students. I want my students to have the skills needed for their future.


    • It’s just such a big part of our world now a days. I am not that technologically advances, I try but it’s hard when I am no longer in the actual classroom. A few weeks ago I did use a projector to show the students a few dances online, so we could use it to dance together in PE, that was fun and it was the first time I had incorporated computer technology in my gym.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I find one of the biggest challenges with technology is trying to keep up with it. Just when I figure something out, something new comes along. It’s been fascinating to watch educational technology grow from almost non-existent to common place. Our kids are used to using tech as part of their every-day lives. They expect it to be part of their education as well. I believe it is important that we, as teachers, stay informed about the different technologies our kids are using. You summed it up well when you said we need to keep up. That doesn’t necessarily mean we will be the experts but we need to have a grasp of what’s available. I find that asking my students for assistance builds their confidence and builds my knowledge base. One of the benefits of being an old guy is that I can use it as an excuse to ask kids questions. If I don’t know how to use something, I can simply tell them that this old dude needs help. They are always willing to share their knowledge.


    • I too use the kids and their knowledge base. They are consumed in technology every day. I love being able to introduced new things to them, simulations, sites, apps, etc… but I always welcome suggestions and ideas. If they bring up a site then I will check it out and get back to them later. Then I might counter with a site I know about. You are right, they feel really good when they are able to educate the teacher, and that is not a bad thing. That is another way for us to stay as current as we can. You are totally right when you say we won’t necessarily be the experts, but we do need to try to keep as up to date as we can.


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