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Project-based learning and problem-based learning are very similar and are often confused or used interchangeably. Both are student-centered and often focused on open-ended, real-world tasks.

Teachers act as facilitators and guide students toward completion. Collaboration with other students is common. Solving the problem requires contemplation and critical thinking which stimulates learning. Setting goals and hypothesis-testing are proven learning methods that are incorporated into both.

With project-based learning, students define project results they want to achieve and plan how to get there. This usually requires that learners combine their existing knowledge with research and experimentation. Students learn by applying knowledge and skills to complete the project. The result is often a tangible product or performance.

Project-Based & Problem-Based Learning

With problem-based learning, the student defines a driving question that is answered through completion of their project. As there is no predetermined outcome to be achieved, the student will need to investigate using a combination of existing and newly learned knowledge. The result may be a study or presentation.

The SmartLab Learning Approach

With SmartLab Learning, we incorporate elements of project-based and problem-based learning. Learners, working in pairs or larger teams, establish  SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based) project goals of their choosing.

Goals that focus on an outcome (e.g., build and program a robotic platform that can automatically align a photovoltaic panel to the position of the sun) can be classified as project-based learning. Goals may also be defined as a compelling question (e.g., build and test various truss configurations to determine which is best for a bridge design).

Learners do not typically focus on distinctions between project-based and problem-based learning in a SmartLab HQ. Rather, the emphasis is on solving problems, effective collaboration and project management, and on documenting and presenting their learning.

Hands-on, minds-on projects form the very core of SmartLab Learning programs. While every project is different, all projects follow a similar process:

  • Students create SMART project goals in collaboration with their facilitator
  • Projects are designed and developed to meet the goal
  • Projects are multidisciplinary and utilize applied technologies
  • Problem-solving is emphasized and failure is celebrated as an opportunity to learn
  • Process skills such as collaboration and time-management are emphasized and assessed
  • Students document their process, learning, and achievements in their Portfolio

“Kids are hands-on involved from the moment they walk in the door to the time they leave the classroom.”

—Kurt Siebold, Principal, Slavens K8 School

“The SmartLab gives students the opportunity to apply the skills they’ve learned in math, science, English, and social studies in a context they find interesting and challenging.

—Dave Yellott, Facilitator, Southwest Secondary Learning Academy

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