Our model of Problem and Project-Based Learning builds on the educational discoveries of the early 20th century. In the 1920’s, Vygotsky demonstrated the importance of the social environment and community to the learning process. (1) In subsequent decades, Piaget expanded our understanding of cognitive development in children by showing first that it occurs in a predictable sequence of steps, and second that it is primarily constructed from within the learner rather than acquired from an outside source. (2) These findings led to the constructivist theory of learning – a theory that has profound implications for the way instruction should be organized.
Wake/UTD PBL reflects and develops these foundational principles for a new generation of learners. Our Problem and Project-Based cases provide integrative, inquiry-based learning experiences that promote design, creativity, collaboration and communication.
The benefits of an inquiry-based approach are well-documented. Organizing instruction around inquiry results in improved student performance across multiple curricular areas as well as increased student involvement in class discussions. (3) Inquiry-based instruction has also been shown to produce transferable critical thinking, domain benefits, and improved attitudes towards the subject. (4)
At Wake/UTD PBL, we approach inquiry as a practice that is developed in students rather than a method that is presented to students. In the context of real-world problems and issues, inquiry practices foster student observation and questioning. Inquiry can take many forms, and the framework driving our approach to PBL is designed to elicit several specific outcomes.
Our guided-inquiry model
- provides instructional experiences that promote learner control of their meaning making,
- sets high expectations for student mastery of content standards,
- supports the use of process skills,
- and develops attitudes needed to engage and motivate learners.
In addition to inquiry, our PBL cases promote “design” as a key element in the development of the student learning experience. When instruction is intentional in its use of design processes, students become more adept at design thinking, more creative in their problem-solving, and they also reach a more meaningful understanding of content. In PBL, design learning serves as the guiding construct for Inquiry-Based Learning experiences that balance collaborative problem-solving with content development.
Design thinking supports the development of creative confidence in students. Instructional experiences that support the use of creative thinking skills have shown to increase cognitive outcomes as well as curricular achievement. (5) The greatest effects are seen in mathematics, science, and reading. At Wake/UTD PBL, our instructional approach encourages creativity by engaging students in practices that teach them to be flexible, to embrace change, and to invite multiple perspectives.
The PBL process integrates these practices, makes them relevant to students, and in turn, supports the use of critical thinking skills. Student products provide ample opportunity for authentic evaluation of content and process. Focusing on student products to communicate understanding ensures that all levels of learning are synthesized, transferred and applied through art to relevant and related concepts.
1. Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in Society: Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press
2. Piaget, J. (1928). The Child's Conception of the World. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
3. Bredderman, T. (1985). Laboratory programs for elementary school science: A meta-analysis of effects on learning. Science Education, 69(4), 577-591.
4. Hatte, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. 209-210, London and New York: Routledge, Abingdon.
5. Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford. (2007). Design thinking process. Palo Alto, C.A.: Stanford University.