Is It Project-Based Learning, Maker Education, or Just Projects?

Jess Peterson


Gerstein, J. (2013, October 22). Is It Project-Based Learning, Maker Education or Just Projects? Retrieved from

This article examines and explains the differences between PBL, Maker Ed, and just throwing in projects. The author makes the claim that most often, even though educators are attempting to tout their activities as PBL or otherwise, mostly, projects are really just an activity that follows direct instruction, and don’t include any form of inquiry whatsoever. She goes on to outline several conditions that must be in place in order for PBL to truly exist, and if all, or at least most conditions aren’t met, then you simply have a project, and inquiry is missing.

I liked this article because she was particularly blunt as well as clear about what makes something qualify as PBL versus what doesn’t. She carefully examines the conditions she claims are essential for PBL to occur, and thoroughly explains how educators can meet these criteria. I also really liked that she included several resources throughout, in case anyone needed or wanted further reading about the various subtopics she brings up.

Project Based Learning

DeMonte, Jennifer


Markham, T. (2011). Project based learning. Teacher Librarian, 39(2), 38-42. Retrieved from

Summary: This article discusses best practices as they relate to the implementation of project-based learning. The author also identifies the biggest roadblocks for teachers and school communities.

Though this article is on the older side, readers who are looking for inspiration and/or a rationale for implementing PBL will find this article useful. It is more theoretical than practical but provides a good jumping off point for those newer to the concept.

School Libraries, Librarians, and Project-Based Learning

DeMonte, Jennifer

ET-Project-based Learning

Foote, C. (2017). School libraries, librarians, and project-based learning. Internet@Schools, 24(1), 12-13. Retrieved from

Summary: This article details necessary qualities in both physical and online spaces for successful project-based learning to occur. The focus is on the role of the library and the librarian in supporting students throughout the process.

Great ideas to help librarians re-envision their use of physical and online spaces to help students during the inquiry process and to support collaboration between students and deep engagement with problem-solving.


How Design Thinking Can Empower Young People

Kinsella, Jason

ID (Inquiry and Design)

How design thinking can empower young people. (2013). Edutopia. Retrieved from

When it comes to design thinking, it’s helpful to see it in action. This eight-minute video documents teens who are living in a homeless shelter engage in a collaborative design thinking challenge to improve the space and services at the shelter.

I really like the way they frame design thinking as a three-step process: Dream it. Design it. Do it. I think this simplifies what may seem like a complicated process into something easily understandable. However, it is important for viewers not to forget about the reflective and iterative aspects of design thinking.

Lastly, this example of teens completing a design thinking challenge shows teens engaged in a real world problem–an essential element to the design thinking concept. This is a great resource, in my opinion, for anyone first learning about student-centered, inquiry-based teaching and learning.

Motivating Project-Based Learning: Sustaining the Doing, Supporting, and Learning

Andrighetto, Kourtney

Blumenfeld, P. C., Soloway, E., Marx, R. W., Krajcik, J. S., Guzdial, M., & Palincsar, A. (1991). Motivating Project-Based Learning: Sustaining the Doing, Supporting the Learning. Educational Psychologist, 26(3/4), 369.

CA, ET- Project-based learning


Educational theories, curriculum development, and assessment are shifting from teacher centered to student centered, project-based learning instruction. Project-based learning has gained much attention in the field of education due to self- directed learning methodologies and opportunities for students to engage in problem-solving and evaluation. This article provides an overview of project-based learning theories and how it contributes to learner motivation and relevance in the 21st-century. The authors note that in order for project-based learning to be successful, the selected topics must be high-interest and valuable to learners. In addition, project-based units must be structured to allow students opportunities for activity, creativity, and interaction with technology. When students are moving, doing, and collaborating, high-yield learning will take place.


This source provides an in-depth explanation of project-based learning theories and how technology integration may boost student learning. For teacher librarians, the discoveries in this article highlight opportunities for co-teaching and unit planning with classroom teachers across content areas.

ET-Project-Based Learning: Rigor and Relevance in High Schools

Emily Ratica


Harada, V. H., Kirio, C., & Yamamoto, S. (2008). Project-based learning: Rigor and relevance in

high schools. (Cover story). Library Media Connection, 26(6), 14-20.

This article provides an excellent introduction to and several examples of Project Based Learning. This practice fits well with the greater implementation of the inquiry process in schools. Students pick projects that extend their understanding and relate to the real world they will soon encounter, and provides them more control over their own learning. During projects, teachers become facilitators who share the educational control with their students instead of simply directing it to them. This articles shows how using projects increases student engagement and encourages students and teachers to move beyond the traditional lecture/note taking model. It also advocates for the increased role of the teacher librarian, as they can “assist the teacher with the process or thinking skills necessary for students to create meaning for themselves. The synergy of working together provides a learning frame that can be a seamless blend” (20).  Project based learning is a perfect example of how educators can better implement 21st century skills that will help students truly be college and career ready.

PBL is best done in an environment of collaboration between teacher and librarian. This article makes what feels like a complicated task, managable. The examples are thorough and doable without having a huge amount of training or experience using PBL. After reading it, I am excited to share it with my colleagues and see what projects we can work on together with our students.

Project-Based Learning: Success Start to Finish

Karen Rogers

CA = Curriculum Assessment
CO = Collaboration

 Edutopia. (2012, May 23). Project-Based Learning: Success Start to Finish. Retrieved July 13, 2016, from 
Summary:  This is a great video about Manor New Technology High School where they have a completely project-based learning program.  The video demonstrates how teachers implement and create the projects for the classroom.  It gives a great amount of information about why you should choose project-based learning and how to assess the projects.
Reflection:  This video was very useful and I think it would be a great video to show staff who have doubts about delving into project-based learning because it actually shows the planning process and thought process behind teaching in this way.  A lot of the fear around this type of learning deals with teachers not having the knowledge on how to start planning or implementing these types of lessons.  Most educators agree that this type of learning is best for helping students to engage and learn in the classroom, but they don’t know how.

Genius Hour in the Library

Debbie Gibbons


Rush, E. B. (2015). Genius hour in the library. Teacher Librarian, 43(2), 26-30. Retrieved from

This is a reflection by one elementary librarian on her first year of implementing a Genius Hour in her school library. Students in grades 3 – 5 were allowed to explore, research, or study any topic during their weekly library period. The librarian, the classroom teacher, and the students all had responsibility for monitoring and evaluating the process and progress. One key factor was to encourage the students to take risks and turn “failures” into learning opportunities. The article offers a checklist to implement a Genius Hour in your own school.


In the same way that students were encouraged to take risks, the author took on a new endeavor in starting a Genius Hour in her library. She admits that not everything was perfect, and there were things that she would do differently the second year. The checklist allows the reader to learn from the author’s missteps. I especially appreciate that she revealed that there were a handful of students who looked like they were diligently working all along and then had no work to show at the end of the project. She then offers a practical suggestion for how to better support those students the next year.

Are School Librarians Part of Your PBL Dream Team?

Debbie Gibbons


Boss, S. (2013, October 28). Are school librarians part of your PBL dream team?. Edutopia. Retrieved from

The school librarian has an understanding of information literacy and digital citizenship, and also knows about students’ outside interests through independent reading choices. This combined knowledge makes them a key collaborator in all stages of project-based learning (PBL). In the planning stage, the school librarian can offer the classroom teacher specific feedback on project plans and offer literature connections and digital media resources. Mini lessons on smarter searching and critical thinking prompts to consider accuracy and reliability of sources will help guide student research. Access to Skype or Google Hangout can connect students with experts. The library or learning commons will be a laboratory for connected learning that encourages teamwork and creativity. And at the culmination of a project, the library can be a place to display student work.


This article was written for the classroom teacher, suggesting ways they could seek support from their school librarian. But as a media center teacher, I found the article an informative list of things I could do to foster project-based learning. It is sometimes difficult to find time to collaborate, but this article inspires me to offer support to the teachers by integrating computer lab and library curriculum with the classroom content.

7 Things You Should Know About Personal Learning Environments (PLE)

Friel, Holly
Educause Learning Iniative. (2009). 7 Things You Should Know About Personal Learning Environments. Educause. Retrieved from

This article defines a Personal Learning Environment (PLE) as “the tools, communities, and services that constitute the individual educational platforms learners use to direct their own learning and pursue educational goals.” A PLE is an interactive environment (often online, such as a blog or site where a lot of other blogs, sites, newsfeeds, can be connected) created by a learner, where that learner can post their own work, connect with others who share related interests, receive feedback from their peers, collaborate on projects, etc. PLEs represent a shift from the traditional teaching model of teacher-transmitting-information to student and into a student-centered, student-driven “collaborative exercise in collection, orchestration, remixing, and integration of data into knowledge building.”


Through repetition of concrete examples, this short article really helped me to understand – and see the value of – Personal Learning Environments.