PBL the ever changing education acronym…

Over the last couple of weeks as I become more ept in Common Core lingo and learning, I have encountered the PBL acronym used in lots of different ways.  For myself and the teachers at my school PBL has always meant – Project Based Learning and silly me thought that is what everyone else in the education world understood it to mean as well – boy was I wrong.    It seems that PBL stands for a host of different teaching methods in the education world and I figured since it surprised me there was so many, why not get to the bottom of at least three of the different explanations of PBL that I have found.

PBL – Project Based Learning

My training is in Project Based Learning.  I have found that over the years, the students that I have encountered remember the projects that they have completed more than worksheets and dittos that they often encounter in schools.  Project Based Learning is explained really well in this video created by BIE.

BIE host of amazing resources and videos that really get to the heart of Project based Learning and in many way tie in really well to the next use of the acronym PBL.

I love project based learning because there is a very specific goal for the students to meet.  They have to produce something.  They have to take pride in what they do and they can look back and say, “I made that.”  But often times project based learning lacks one element which The next PBL addresses and takes the Project based learning to the next level by adding the problem.

PBL – Problem Based Learning

While I have always based curriculum on Project based learning, Problem based learning seems to be more in line with what Common Core is asking us to do.  The simple definition of it is that a problem, not just a project is presented to the students.  As it is uncovered and investigated, students develop a project that in turn answers the problem.

An example of this in action can be seen in this video.  It is a project by nature but there is a specific problem

In traditional project based learning anything can be a project.  A project can be as simple as creating a diorama of the Globe Theatre or make a poster rising gas prices but with a problem the students have to investigate a problem that they come up with based on given parameters.

Even though I have been project based for so long, with the Common Core, I am really moving towards problem based learning.

PBL – Proficiency Based Learning

This one is very new to me but one that I am really interested in learning more about.  The idea that learning shoudl be proficiency based seems obvious.  I mean when you teach a problem or a project, isn’t the point to teach students to a level of proficiency?

Yet, Proficiency based learning takes on a different approach, replacing “seat time” the time a student sits in a grade as enough time to get to the next grade with the idea that they can advance when they show proficiency in a given standard.  It runs along the same lines as competency based learning or standard based learning.

Clearly, this one challenges some of the Common Core themes in the sense that students must be competent in a series of strands in order to move on which is what Common Core mandates yet, with the PARCC assessments on pace to determine a students progress it is hard to really imagine that Proficiency based learning will take a firm hold in the education model in the US because students will still be held to “the test.”

A school using Proficiency Based Learning can be seen here in this video:

Additionally, this article published by ASCD highlights the benefits of  proficiency Based Learning versus “seat time” and challenges the ways in which or education system determines how and when a student is ready for the next level.

So is there a school out there that combines all three.  I believe there are more than one.  One such example is the School of One in NYC.   I have been trying for a while to visit the school and I hope this year I can and report back on this innovative learning style.  Until then, this video highlights what they do and how they do it.


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