Empowering Students through Problem and Project Based Learning

Spring, 2012

Source: Jewish Educational Leadership. Spring, 2012


The Problem Based Learning approach has only recently been developed in Jewish educational contexts, and the transition to Judaic subject matter has revealed some significant learning and motivational benefits, as well as some significant challenges. One of the largest and most central benefits of the PBL approach is student empowerment, as PBL curricula allow students to take charge of their own learning in powerful ways. This paper identifies the key features of problem and project based learning, and will use two case studies from Judaic studies classrooms that have successfully employed this approach to illustrate how students can be empowered through deep engagement in meaningful projects and problems.

The authors conclude:

"For years researchers have recognized the numerous benefits of problem based learning in secular educational contexts. Among the varied intertwined cognitive and motivational benefits in PBL, researchers have recognized the substantially empowering nature of this classroom structure, and it seems clear that this applies in Judaic contexts as well. Nonetheless, questions remain about the use of PBL in Judaic settings, questions that relate to curricular demands, textual skills, and student accountability. Hidden among all these questions is this implicit concern: how much agency can we realistically let students have? Don’t we have specific content we must cover, or specific skills we must develop? These are real concerns, and they should not be trivialized. The beauty of PBL, however, is that curricular goals (both content and skills) can be covered through targeted projects and problems. When planning, if teachers ask critical questions about how student-directed PBL methods could enhance student learning of a particular skill or piece of content (while inspiring them and increasing their motivation), PBL becomes a powerful tool for the acquisition of that skill or content. This targeted approach to PBL does give up some student choice, but many of the same empowering aspects remain, without sacrificing curricular goals. Ultimately, PBL may have the potential to transform Judaic curricula, as students feel empowered to use those domains to engage in their own lives in meaningful ways."

Updated: Sep. 27, 2012