Project-based learning is the most authentic way to learn. Whether you call it “hands-on learning”, “experiential learning“, or “learning by doing”, it’s one of the most effective methods for knowledge retention, according to a study conducted at Purdue University.
When done properly, it teaches students important skills like critical thinking and creative problem-solving. It gives students firsthand experience in the subject and allows them to practice what they’ve been taught, which is different from simply regurgitating information in a format like a test. Most importantly, it engages students by allowing them to follow along at their pace, take more ownership of the activity and thus the outcome, and take the learning “beyond the classroom”.
The problem with project-based learning is that it can be difficult to implement without proper training and structure, especially in brick-and-mortar schools. On top of that, it’s resource and time intensive to apply to multiple students.
That’s why homeschooling is the perfect environment to use PBL! Here’s why.
Project-Based Learning Works Best in Small Settings
As mentioned before, setting up projects take up a lot of time. They’re not quite as simple as just picking up a textbook or having a student follow an online curriculum. Projects need to be set up and scoped out, often involve multiple processes or tasks, take a lot of time, and sometimes doesn’t provide a clean, quantifiable outcome like a grade or test score. It can also just be daunting to do in a class full of students if the educator is inexperienced.
Fortunately, homeschooling parents have an enormous advantage: you only have to work with one or a few students at a time. Once you learn how to use this method of teaching, you can get started pretty quickly and effortlessly. There are plenty of readily-available resources online for project-based learning at home, including our own blog at Sora Schools.
It also allows you to focus your time on the student and their individual interests and learning style, which brings us to our next reason…
Project-Based Learning is Personal, Just Like Homeschooling
You know your student better than any teacher. Learning doesn’t happen when students don’t care about the subject, are bored or falling behind, or don’t like the people they’re working with.
With projects, you can customize milestones and deadlines so that your student can do the work at their pace. You can create projects around their interests so that they care about what they’re learning. For example, a student interested in space could work on a project where they research the effects of weightlessness and radiation on the human body and if a trip to Mars is feasible today.
Their curriculum also doesn’t just have to be projects alone. Direct instruction and activities from other methods can accompany PBL in areas where they make sense. The main philosophy behind project-based learning is that students are working in a way that allows them to acquire deeper knowledge through the exploration of real-world challenges and problems.
Project-Based Learning and Homeschooling Both Follow the Principle of Directness
The real-world format of PBL allows students to connect their work to their daily lives. Not only does it make the content seem relatable, but it allows students to apply their learning. If that sounds familiar, that’s because it’s one of the core philosophies behind homeschooling!
Homeschooling already emphasizes learning through everyday tasks—handling finances, gardening, cooking, planning trips and vacations. Projects take that one step further by adding more structure and increasing the scope. For example, a good project should take longer than just 5 minutes of searching on Google. A good project often encourages students to think about the “why” and the “how”.
Project-based learning can also help “sneak in the learning”. Parents often report that their students, especially older ones, resist direct teaching methods like lecturing, textbooks, and worksheets. Projects can help break up their students’ curriculums and allow them to do much more exciting work without them even realizing it’s “school”.
Our Experience with PBL at Sora Schools
What does project-based learning at home look like in practice?
Our school, Sora, is an online, project-based high school. We work with students from around the country, and all official communication with students happens digitally. We’ve learned that project-based learning at home can work very well if managed properly.
In the past, our students were required to scope out their projects fully in the beginning before starting them. Along the way, we learned that it was much more effective to set multiple milestones over a period of time and break it up into steps like figuring out what they project they want to work on, what they need to learn or do, and the how they can go about doing it.
Project-based learning also requires a strong sense of accountability. Projects can very easily fall to the wayside as students run into roadblocks, procrastinate, or lose interest. That’s why it’s important that you set up deadlines and times for checking on their progress. However, that’s not to say that you have to micro-manage your student. It’s a delicate balance. Our students meet with our faculty weekly to discuss their projects and work, but they also meet with other students every morning for a lightweight check-in on their tasks, goals, and deadlines. Of course, this also depends on your student: how independent are they? Whether you check on your student multiple times during the day or just let them be for most of the week, ultimately the goal is to have your student become more self-directed.
So, try out project-based learning at home! Do some research on structuring projects first. Then, take one subject and have your homeschooler do a project in that area.
If you’re interested in learning more about our online, project-based high school, please check out our website and reach out to our team to learn more about how Sora can work for your student!