PBL and Brain Science
In ‘Thinking Through Project-Based Learning: Guiding Deeper Inquiry’ (Corwin Press, 2013) Jane Krauss and Suzie Boss state:
Insights from brain researchers, educational psychologists, and learning scientists have important implications for how we design and manage curriculum –
In Mind, Brain, and Education Science (2010), Tracey Tokuhama-Espinosa synthesizes more than 4,500 studies from this emerging field to offer five key concepts, shown in the left column of the following table. These concepts are worth considering as we plan projects that will get minds engaged. The column on the right suggests implications for classroom practice.
What research tells us.
Applying Mind-Brain-Education Science Insights to Projects – What this means for PBL.
Human brains are as unique as faces.
The uniqueness of each learner underscores the importance of student voice and choice in the selection and design of projects.
All brains are not equal because context and ability influence learning.
In projects, students of mixed ability levels need to find room to be challenged yet also have support to be successful. Well-designed projects allow for differentiation and provide scaffolding.
The brain is changed by experience.
Exposure to varied project experiences and fluency with ‘thinking routines’ that projects call into play help students become more capable learners. Doing projects together gives students common experiences they can build on while allowing for differentiation.
The brain is highly plastic.
The brain changes in response to cognition; neural pathways are strengthened in response to repetition while underutilised pathways are pruned away. PBL presents opportunities for students to practice and ‘hard wire’ executive function, the cognitive processes that help us regulate our actions.
The brain connects new information to old.
Sense and meaning are two filters the brain uses to decide whether an idea will take hold. To make sense, new information has to fit with the brain’s existing scheme for how the world works. If there’s no connection with prior understanding, then the information is discarded. Meaning refers to perceived significance. For an idea to stick, it has to have personal relevance. Otherwise, the brain casts it off. PBL happens within an authentic context where it makes sense. By focusing on topics students care about, the teacher imbues the project with meaning.