With student engagement at an all-time low, educators and districts across the country are reevaluating instructional approaches. Project-based learning (PBL) has proven to be an effective tool for both engaging students in learning and improving student achievement.
Every successful PBL unit includes the following essential characteristics:
- Projects are central to learning
- Projects are authentic
- Engagement drives agency
- Students receive ongoing feedback
- Collaboration is key
The PBL instructional approach has been readily adopted in many Science classrooms, but is there a place for it in a Social Studies context? Absolutely! Here are five reasons why project-based learning is essential to increasing your Social Studies course’s impact on students.
Why Does Project-Based Learning Increase Engagement in Social Studies?
- Students gain real-world skills through meaningful learning experiences. When presented with an authentic and relevant problem, students must put academic content into real-life practice. As students develop “hard skills” (like creating spreadsheets, using digital creation tools, and navigating online research), they simultaneously sharpen soft skills like communication, collaboration, and creatively working with their peers.
- Inquiry hones critical thinking. While Social Studies deals a lot with historical facts and inarguable truths, there is ample room for interpretation and discussion. By beginning units of study or projects with a driving question, students are positioned as problem-solvers and investigators who will build core content knowledge through inquiry. Check out PBL courses from Educurious to see strong examples of rooting content in thought-provoking questions.
- Students learn to embrace experimentation. As design thinking experts suggest, embracing an openness to experimentation allows the mind to travel to new places. Scientists experiment, so why wouldn’t social scientists do the same? Rather than assigning tasks that measure students’ rote memorization, educators who involve learners in project-based learning focused around a driving question see how keeping thinking open-ended develops more flexible, agile minds. When there is not a “right or wrong” answer, and instead limitless paths to success and exploration, students are free to tinker, test, and fail forward. This strengthens student resilience, creativity, and adaptability – just a few of the many 21st century skills that PBL reinforces.
- Student voice and choice improve learning environments. There are plenty of case studies that speak to the power of student voice and choice – listen to this podcast for PBL success stories in Colorado, Alaska, and Washington schools. When student voice and choice are prioritized, classroom culture shifts to one of student agency, empowerment, and engagement. As students incorporate their personal preferences and beliefs into their collaborative projects and final products, they feel increased ownership over their learning and see its innate value in their lives.
- It’s time we bridge the gap between education and industry. One of modern education’s biggest challenges is ensuring a student’s K-12 experience sets them up for a successful transition into today’s workforce. With PBL, students often collaborate with and present final products to subject matter experts and professionals. By building these connections between school and work, students are exposed to many different career paths and are better informed about what pathways may be right for them. With Educurious, students freely consult with experts from the Educurious network, who serve as student guides and invaluable sources of information.
Ready to Infuse PBL Into Your Social Studies Course?
While many educators recognize the value of project-based learning, they may be unsure of how to plan or implement PBL units. Educurious offers full-year courses as well as customizable project-based approaches that align to state and national standards, employ the latest evidence-based learning methods to engage students, and are available as a full-year course or individually. Ready to take the guesswork out of your PBL Social Studies planning? Inquire about a pilot opportunity of Educurious today!