Understanding The Difference Between Projects & Project-based Learning

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We all might have done several projects during our school days. Usually, teachers have been assigning projects to us, the students, for years. These class projects are as old as the classroom.

However, many of us fail to understand project vs. project-based learning. They both are different. To get a deeper understanding of both the terms, read this piece thoroughly.

A 'Project' can represent a range of tasks that parents or groups of students can perform at home or in class, quickly or over time. Although project-based learning (PPA) also presents projects, it focuses more on the learning process and learner-peer interaction than on the final product itself.

While the projectis a learning experience that aims to provide students with the opportunity to synthesize knowledge from various areas of learning, including a foreign language, and then critically and creatively apply it to real-life situations.  Project-based learning (PBL) is an instructional approach designed to allow students to develop knowledge and skills through engaging projects set around the challenges and problems they may face in the real world.

It is more than just “doing a project,” in the way you might remember from your own school days. According to the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) with PBL, students “investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex problem or challenge” with deep and sustained attention.

Differences between a "Project" and "Project-based Learning"

As mentioned, if you visit a traditional classroom, you will probably find that students have done projects in at least one unit during the school year. Students are often tasked with creating something related to the unit's topic, from shoebox dioramas to hand-built models for poster presentations.

Projects are like a “dessert.” They are usually done at the end of a unit – after the "main course," i.e., the main contents are delivered via traditional lessons, lectures, worksheets, and readings.

Making projects can be creative, pleasant, and even fun, but it is a superficial learning experience. Students can design, develop, draw and dance. They do not know or cannot explain what they have done, how they have done it, and why they have done it the way they have done it. Making projects can be creative, enjoyable, and even entertaining, but it is a superficial learning experience. At the same time, project-based learning is more student-centered, process-oriented, and contextual. It also naturally implies that students develop and demonstrate the four C's of modern learning: critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and imagination, collaboration and communication (P21 Council, 2011).

Project-based learning introduces students to a scenario or situation in a conduct matter. They are challenged to reflect on how to react to the situation critically. They are encouraged to work with others - both their classmates and people with expertise - to solve the problem. They are also expected to communicate through the process by asking and answering questions, detailing their efforts and conclusions, and sharing their findings, evidence, and reasoning. The fourth C - Creativity - engages students in exploring alternatives and options and developing their ideas, methods, or ways to address and respond to the problem or situation. Students' project learning experience provides them with factual, conceptual, and procedural knowledge and essential skills they will use professionally and personally throughout their lives.

When it comes to teaching, the guidance or teaching experience of doing projects is usually not enjoyable for adults. They often become overwhelmed with creating the activities associated with the projects and the grading. So do parents; they get frustrated with arranging schedules so their children can participate with their group to do the project. Also, parents sometimes need to purchase the materials to complete the projects. Many students leave the project to get it done last minute, which might irritate their parents as they end up helping or doing the project for the student and have it turned into the teacher as their work.

This creates an enigma for the teacher, who knows that the parent made the plan - not the child -but they cannot prove it, and they do not want to risk that kind of accusation. However, most children do not just find making plans pleasant but also memorable. From doing worksheets to giving tests and doing projects, many children consider these to be "fun" and memorable learning experiences - those who have the right to design models, draw posters or make dramatic presentations (e.g., play, dance, sing) about the concepts and ideas they learn.

Another significant benefit of doing projects - is personally rewarding. The student feels a sense of pride in seeing his work highlighted and even shown so that everyone can see and congratulate him. It also allows students to think like an artisan, which is one of the mindsets Thomas Friedman  and  Michael Mendelbaum suggest to students to develop and demonstrate as a "designer" or "creative server."

The projects also encourage teaching and learning for differentiation, individualization, and customization. Projects differentiate teaching by enabling teachers to use multiple ways in which students can demonstrate and communicate their learning.

Making projects also individualize teaching in that it focuses on the way an individual student treats and presents what they have learned by far.

Within Project-Based Learning, the project itself is used to teach rigorous academic content and achievement skills. Students are working towards answering an important question: "How do we address the hunger in our community?" By exploring the issue for several weeks or longer, students dive into it., pursuing answers from various angles.

Through this process, they apply what they are learning in meaningful ways. Instruction is incorporated into the project, designed to meet appropriate academic goals and standards. The project requires students to learn academic-level content and skills while working collaboratively, thinking critically, and engaging in reflection and revision.

Often, in traditional classes and assigned projects—students write a story or poem to create a model of seasons, layers of the atmosphere, etc., wonderfully and help students enjoyably learn content. Inquire includes guidelines and models for many such projects.

However, in projects, students engage in only part of the inquiry process. The teacher does the questioning, planning, and researching and presents all the material to the students. Then, students create something out of it. The teacher and student work together to improve it, and then the student presents the project to the class or puts it in a glass case in the school.

While in project-based learning, the student is involved in the inquiry process from the beginning. Students are immersed in an inquiry experience that gets them thinking about and questioning the topic. Then students work with their teacher to develop vital, driving questions about the topic and what they want to learn. Together, they plan how they will answer their questions and dive together into their research.

Students learn content and concepts but also learn skills and focus on what they want to do with their learning. They then work with their teacher to plan a project they will build that often goes beyond the classroom. They could get in touch with those they know in the community who can help them develop their projects. Final projects are shared with an audience that often includes parents and community members. Occasionally, projects change the world beyond school.

In a project-oriented class, the teacher is a facilitator, not a lecturer. Rather than being the source of all knowledge, the teacher is a collaborator who helps students develop the information and skills they need to be successful.

For better understanding, here's a popular poster by Amy Mayer.

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About the Author
Author: Saniya Khan
Saniya Khan I am Saniya Khan, Copy-Editor at EdTechReview - India’s leading edtech media. As a part of the group, my aim is to spread awareness on the growing edtech market by guiding all educational stakeholders on latest and quality news, information and resources. A voraciously curious writer with a dedication to excellence creates interesting yet informational pieces, playing with words since 2016.

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