Project-based learning; is there a problem-based difficulty?

Citation metadata

Author: Deborah Strevy
Date: November-December 2014
From: Childhood Education(Vol. 90, Issue 6)
Publisher: Association for Childhood Education International
Document Type: Essay
Length: 2,495 words
Lexile Measure: 1390L

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

A first-year kindergarten teacher was very excited to introduce the "projects" of the week. The children were doing an extended thematic unit on butterflies. Following a reading of The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Carle, 1994), the teacher explained to the children they would be making caterpillars from foam egg cartons and butterflies from tom tissue paper. The teacher explained to the children they would be learning about Eric Carle, and about caterpillars and butterflies through these "projects." The terms "project-based" and "problem-based" are used interchangeably and in many different ways by educators. How have these terms been used historically, how are they used now, and are they interpreted the same way by all who use them? These questions are considered in this article.

A Brief History of the Project-Based Approach

Lilian G. Katz and Sylvia C. Chard (1989) define a project as "an in-depth study of a particular topic that one or more children undertake" (Katz & Chard, 1989, p. 2). The theorists further describe the project-based approach as a way of teaching in which the children are encouraged to interact with the subjects of their projects in a way that has meaning for them by posing questions and engaging in intellectual curiosity. Children should see school as relevant to their lives, not as entertainment or contrived experiences (Katz & Chard, 1989).

Investigation is a critical element of the project-based approach, along with open-ended questions that arise from children's interests and opportunities to make predictions, create hypotheses, and gather materials as they work to complete final projects (Ward, 1988). Defining the project and determining the starting point of the investigation are critical steps in the project-based approach. "What you already know is the starting point, not the conclusion, of a study" (p. 7). Another key element of the project-based approach is addressing multiple areas of the curriculum through the project.

While attempting a project-based approach, however, some educators lose focus and the product becomes the emphasis rather than the process. Ward (1988) stresses that care must be taken when preparing objectives for the project assignment in order to focus on both the content and the process, with clear objectives for each.

These ideas are not new to early childhood educators. They date back to England in the 1920s, the open education movement in the United States in the 1970s (Katz & Chard, 1989), and to the Reggio Emilia approach in Italy dating back more than 50 years (Trepanier-Street, Hong, & Bauer, 2001).

Recent sources describe the project-based learning approach as "using authentic, real-world projects, based on a highly motivating and engaging question, task or problem, to teach students academic content in the context of working cooperatively to solve the problem" (Bender, 2012, p. 7). This description calls attention to one of the issues addressed in this article, the use of the terms "project-based" and "problem-based" as they are applied in the early childhood classroom.

John Bareli (2007) defines problem-based learning in the following way:

PBL (problem-based learning) can be defined as...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|A393988540