I would be a brave person to argue against project-based or challenge-based learning from a pedagogical perspective. With buzzwords like ‘trans-disciplinary’, ‘exploratory’, ‘student-centered’ and ‘collaboration’ oozing through every definition to be found (PBL CBL), what is there not to like? It seems almost perfect. Report after report, such as Pepert’s, New Media Consortium’s and Buck’s detail staggering successes using both PBL and CBL in a variety of settings. From inmates in juvenile correction facilities to high-flying students in some of America’s best schools, the results seem to be unanimously favourable.
CBL and PBL, which are two sides of the same coin, seem to share a lot of similarities with the IB’s Middle Years Programme. Comparing the framework for PBL/CBL and MYP below, the structure and keywords share a lot in common. All have the backbone of key ideas, essential and guiding questions, skill acquisition and assessment. Both allow extended use of IT. And whilst the teacher may play a larger role than the student in the development of the key ideas, essential and guiding questions in the MYP, they share a similar education philosophy.
The MYP is a programme I am getting to know well. In light of the similarities between MYP and CPL/PBL, it stands to reason that they must also share the same concerns. The first is the how easy it is for students to arrive mid-year or even mid-course. My understanding is that in CBL in particular, a challenge can take months or even years to complete. How do students who arrive in the school at unusual times fit in? Second is the issue of comparability. By no means the most important purpose of a school, but certainly a notable purpose, is providing students with the necessary tools to get into tertiary education. Without nationally recognised standardised testing, such as the AP, IBDP or A-levels, are students not being disadvantaged? PBL/CBL enables students to achieve a depth of knowledge, whereas many of the standardised tests reward a breadth of knowledge. I’m curious how the schools that fully employ CBL or PBL overcome this contradiction.
Beyond those concerns, both CBL and PBL seem like fantastic methods of learning. What does come across in the literature is that to be successful, the entire school has to change its ethos to dovetail with CBL and PBL. To be a single CBL teacher in a traditional school setting will not work. Schools like the High Tech High group can be successful because they go all-in. I would love to visit a CBL school to see how it all works. It’s a fascinating development in education.