Bennett Day School News

How Project-Based Learning (PBL) Prepares Adolescents for Life After School

We geniunely believe that students must be invested in what they are learning and the curriculum must be relevant to students’ lives.

Posted: December 20, 2022

Below is adapted from a presentation our Principal gave on "Insights in Bennett’s Middle
& Upper School Program."


Why Project-Based Learning?

At Bennett, our students learn by doing through dynamic, project-based learning (PBL) experiences. Why do we use this approach? Here are 5 reasons:
  1. Learning is driven by student interests, which helps them connect to the world in authentic, relevant, and meaningful ways.
  2. The focus on process and overcoming challenges cultivates a growth mindset and adaptability.
  3. Students work together as a team, which develops social-emotional skills like collaboration, conflict resolution, and communication.
  4. Cross-disciplinary exploration gives learners the opportunity to apply their knowledge across disciplines in a manner that mimics the skills necessary to be an effective citizen of the world.
  5. Students dive deep into "real-world" problems, which naturally builds social consciousness and responsibility.

These two gold-standard studies provide compelling evidence that project-based learning leads to better outcomes for all students—including historically marginalized ones.

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Our approach to PBL changes in complexity as a student moves through our program. In our Early Childhood classrooms, project work is emergent and balances student interest and careful observation. In our Middle and Upper School grades, the approach to project work balances competency coverage and student inquiry.

Focused on Developing Life Skills

Bennett is a progressive program that prioritizes meaningful activity in learning and participation in classroom democracy. We genuinely believe that students must be invested in what they are learning and the curriculum must be relevant to students’ lives. This is the key to keeping adolescent learners engaged.

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Learning by doing and the development of life skills are crucial in children’s education. We not only believe this but have built our PreK-12 program to emphasize these life skills. The World Economic Forum continues to share research predicting the future skills needed for success. Problem-solving, critical thinking, and analysis have always been in the top ten….creativity continues to move further and further up.

Top 10 Skills for 2025

  1. Analytical Thinking and Innovation
  2. Active Learning and Learning Strategies
  3. Complex Problem-Solving
  4. Critical Thinking and Analysis
  5. Creativity, Originality, and Initiative
  6. Leadership and Social Influence
  7. Technology use, monitoring, and control
  8. Technology design and programming
  9. Resilience, stress tolerance, and flexibility
  10. Reasoning, problem-solving, and ideation
The future critical skills predicted by the World Economic Forum noted that individuals require "reskilling" more than ever – meaning learning new skills to complete new jobs.

As educators, we need to be intentional about providing our students with opportunities to apply their learning in new and novel situations. This is where the beauty of project-based learning (PBL) comes in…it naturally encourages kids to apply their learning to ongoing "real-world" situations, and it helps them retain information longer than traditional methods. Bennett is a progressive program for all of our students, ages 3 to 18.

Preparing Students for the World They'll Inherit

Keeping in mind the World Economic Forum's Top 10 Skills for 2025, there is notable overlap in our Portrait of a Graduate.

Portrait of a graduate

By the time our students leave Bennett, we want them to be learners who can demonstrate these skills. If you’re a successful Bennett Day student in the coming years, these are the skills we want you to have.

Although it isn't on the World Economic Forum's list, self-regulation has become recognized for its foundational role in promoting well-being across the lifespan, including educational achievement and physical, emotional, social, and economic health. Self-regulation can be defined as the act of managing thoughts and feelings to enable goal-directed actions and includes a variety of behaviors necessary for success in school, relationships, and the workplace.

This is what specifically distinguishes Bennett’s graduates from the graduates of any other school – we are intentionally preparing them for the world they will inherit. 

Supporting Self-Regulation in Early Adolescence

In our Portrait of a Graduate – you'll notice one of the major life skills we focus on at Bennett is being self-regulated. Self-regulation isn't just innate – it is supported and developed. The graph below presents a theoretical model of the balance of a young person’s capacity for self-regulation and the need for adult support.

Screen Shot 2022-11-29 at 9.57.11 AM

Rosanbalm, K.D., & Murray, D.W. (2017). Caregiver Co-regulation Across Development: A Practice Brief. OPRE Brief #2017-80. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, US. Department of Health and Human Services. 

One way of thinking about this ratio of a young person’s capacity and adult support is that, for optimal functioning in the moment, children and young adults need to have their self-regulation “bucket” filled. Depending on developmental stage, environment, and individual differences, young people themselves have the capacity to fill their self-regulation bucket to varying levels. To successfully manage their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, they need caregivers to provide co-regulation that fills the remainder of the bucket. Caregivers are the critical adults in our children’s lives—their parents, guardians, and teachers.

Looking at the red ovals in the graph above, there are two clear developmental periods where a person's ability to self-regulate can increase dramatically due to corresponding changes in brain development: early childhood (3-4-year-olds) and early adolescence (Middle School). During these periods, co-regulation support can capitalize on readiness to build and practice new self-regulation skills. Support in these developmental windows may be particularly well-timed to smooth life transitions, first into school and then into adulthood.

Our Middle and Upper School Advisory program is designed to support co-regulation for adolescents.

Screen Shot 2022-11-29 at 10.41.07 AM
Rosanbalm, K.D., & Murray, D.W. (2017). Caregiver Co-regulation Across Development: A Practice Brief. OPRE Brief #2017-80. Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, US. Department of Health and Human Services. 

Though adolescents are developmentally separating from caregivers and seeking more independence, maintenance of a warm and accepting relationship with a caring adult is as important as ever. They NEED this in school. Adolescents need teachers who can listen supportively in times of strong emotion, provide space and support for them to calm down in times of conflict, and coach coping skills for a multitude of stressful situations. We have built our Advisory program is built to support students in this way and to help them practice and develop new self-regulation skills.


Want to learn more about Bennett Day School?

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