Strategies In Teaching
November 11th, 2011

Project-Based Learning (Secondary): Lisa Leith Discusses How to Keep Students Engaged


Educational research has long demonstrated a strong connection between student boredom and disengagement, low achievement, and even increasing dropout rates.  Tragically, middle school and high school students often describe their classroom experiences as boring, monotonous, or even “mind-numbing.”  Certain conditions, however, have been found to increase student interest and engagement. For example, because they often combine several research-based instructional approaches, such as differentiation, constructivism, and collaboration, project-based lessons can bring new life and excitement into your secondary classroom.  

When students are encouraged to design their own learning experience, based on their levels of interest and background knowledge, teachers often see an immediate payoff in increased self-efficacy, engagement, motivation, and student focus. Over the course of a PBL experience, students become researchers, scientists, project managers, collaborators and experts. Even teachers find themselves adapting to a new role—of facilitator and thought partner, becoming the ‘guide on the side’ instead of the ‘sage on the stage.’   

For secondary students, particularly, student learning goes deeper and is more enduring when obtained through authentic, real-world experience. Other gains from PBL include development of 21st Century skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, analysis, agility and adaptability. Recently released data tells us that a wide majority of students view their project-based learning experiences as wholly positive. In fact, when asked to describe their PBL classroom experience, students often report that the classes are just plain FUN. 

Their teachers couldn’t agree more.

For more on design and delivery of project-based learning, go to

A Guide to Project Based Learning in Middle School:  Inspiring Students to Engage in Deep and Active Learning. 

This is an excellent resource that provides PBL support from start to finish. Created by NYC Schools, it offers an overview of the planning process, a checklist for success, and support for designing instructional activities and developing formats for final products.