NPR’s Mind/Shift provides a clear explanation of the distinction between project-based learning and project-oriented learning. Although I haven’t given much thought to these terms before, it turns out that understanding this difference is quite significant.
According to Azul Terronez, an 8th grade humanities teacher at High Tech Middle in San Diego, project-based learning involves students exploring and making discoveries as they engage in a project. Terronez emphasizes that many educators mistakenly believe they are implementing project-based learning when they simply teach a unit and conclude it with a hands-on project. In reality, this is project-oriented learning, which students perceive as mere busy work rather than a valuable learning experience. Terronez asserts that the aim of project-based learning should be to create something with real-world significance, rather than just aiming for a good grade.
Terronez himself assigns his students tasks such as developing iPad applications, configuring their classroom, and constructing hovercrafts. Interestingly, I know individuals who perform these same "projects" as part of their daily job responsibilities. Given that the Common Core State Standards prioritize college and career readiness, project-based learning appears to be aligned with these objectives. However, the question remains whether schools can successfully adapt to this instructional approach.