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A Special Kind of Project-Based Learning

Civic learning and engagement is a specialized form of project-based learning. Like any type of project-based learning, it engages students in inquiry-driven, hands-on activities that result in a final product, involve them in collaboration with community groups and place youth at the center of decision-making, goal setting and reflection.

Civic learning and engagement, however, includes an additional goal: Students take part in projects to better understand issues within their social and political contexts and work toward positive change, often getting involved with issues of local, state and federal government. This valuable learning experience can take place in school, in the community or in the larger world.

Note: While this chapter focuses on civic learning and engagement projects, there are many additional activities that can incorporate the democratic process into your program and foster civic responsibility and skills in youth.

Service Learning and Civic Learning and Engagement

Many programs that employ project-based learning opportunities for youth choose to embark on projects that involve either service learning or civic learning and engagement because of the dual benefits inherent in these approaches. Both civic learning and engagement, and service learning, promote good deeds and community impact. Both also produce benefits for youth such as gains in academics and 21st century skills.

One key feature of civic learning and engagement is the desire to work with public agencies towards positive change in policy and community life. Service learning’s focus is serving members of the community, while the force behind civic learning and engagement is based on a broader impact, calling for involvement in civic life, which leads to social or political change in the community.

Read the examples below to see the distinction among project-based learning, service learning, and civic learning and engagement.

The Intersection of Three Areas

Project-Based Learning (PBL)

Youth create a map of the city to identify all the locations where residents can purchase food, and analyze the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables across the area.

Service Learning (SL)

Youth take it a step further by adding bus route directions for residents to get to locations where fresh fruits and vegetables are sold. They post the map in public places, distribute flyers showcasing the map and deliver presentations to inform residents about the availability of fresh produce. For more information on service learning, review the Service Learning Toolbox.

Civic Learning and Engagement (CLE)

In addition to the actions described above, the youth draft recommendations for placement of new supermarkets and/or fruit stands in areas where fresh produce is not readily available. They meet with the local Chamber of Commerce, the owner of a regional supermarket chain and the city's urban planning commission to suggest several options for making fresh food more available to residents, and encourage the commission to adopt one of the measures.

For more details on this distinction, read this article from ASCD.

My Notebook

Project-Based Learning

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Project-Based Learning