Science of Parenting: Project-based Learning

AMES, Iowa – Get kids engaged in project-based learning, and they’ll learn more by creating solutions to real-world problems. That’s the topic of this month’s Science of Parenting podcast from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Project-based learning is being used with students of all ages, from kindergarten to graduate school, said Timothy Kubik, national faculty member for the Buck Institute for Education, which specializes in project-based learning.

kids get engaged with project-based learning“Any grade level is appropriate. What matters is that you are structuring an experience that is right for the kids” at their specific ages, said Kubik, who also is principal of Kubik Perspectives, where he works on a variety of initiatives to increase student engagement.

During the 30-minute Science of Parenting podcast, Kubik discusses project-based learning with program host Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology and extension specialist at Iowa State, and co-host Mike Murray, who brings a “parent-on-the-street perspective” to the program.

There’s more to learning than memorizing the “right” answer. In project-based learning, students “wrestle with a concrete problem they have to solve,” Kubik said.

In this approach, teachers become facilitators. They do not provide facts for their students to memorize. Instead, teachers put forth questions that will help students find information and apply it to the real world.

“The teacher is not so much the authority in the classroom who fails students, but is the mentor in the classroom who helps as many students as possible come along,” Kubik said.

Project-based learning encourages children to take control of their own learning, fosters critical thinking skills and helps children understand how problems are solved in the real world. It also has been found to increase the retention of information learned far longer than traditional, direct instruction.

“The learning is better when the students are engaged,” Kubik said. “If you want to prepare students for success at work, at college, you’ve got to engage them.”

Rather than sorting out “the best and brightest” students, project-based learning involves “making a change in education that’s going to allow all of our students to be contributing members of society,” Kubik said. “Great learning can happen at any level of school. If we want democracy to thrive and our companies to be successful, then we’ve got to have kids who are able to be creative regardless of whether they fit in that top 10 percent.”

Parents should ask themselves what they see going on in the workplace and in the world, Kubik said. “How is that challenging you to rethink the way you expect your kids need to be prepared for the 21st century?”

Download Science of Parenting Podcasts

The Science of Parenting offers research-based parenting advice from experts across the country. The monthly podcasts are available for free download from the Science of Parenting website, or can be subscribed to in iTunes. Each month a new, 30-minute Science of Parenting program, as well as previous programs, will be available, as well as blog posts and other research-based parenting information.