Bringing curriculum to life: Enacting project-based learning in music programs

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Tobias, E. S., Campbell, M. R., & Greco, P. (2015). Bringing curriculum to life: Enacting project-based learning in music programs. Music Educators Journal, 102(2), 39-47. doi:10.1177/0027432115607602

My co-authored article Bringing curriculum to life: Enacting project-based learning in music programs is now published in the Music Educators Journal. I really like how the principles and practical suggestions can be applied in pretty much any music teaching and learning context. The abstract of the article is as follows: 

At its core, project-based learning is based on the idea that real-life problems capture student interest, provoke critical thinking, and develop skills as they engage in and complete complex undertakings that typically result in a realistic product, event, or presentation to an audience. This article offers a starting point for music teachers who might be interested in using project-based learning as a teaching strategy and also interested in “building” student competency and “bringing to life” student engagement in the music curriculum. To help music educators enact project-based learning in their classes and ensembles, we outline a process for designing and facilitating projects, provide vignettes that situate theory in practice, and discuss projects in relation to curriculum, standards, assessment, and teacher evaluation.


Contact me if you would like a copy of the article but do not have access to the MEJ.

This article is the result of years teaching with a project-based teaching and learning approach, reflections on experiences with this type of teaching and learning, and ongoing conversations with co-authors Mark Robin Campbell and Phil Greco, colleagues, and students. A special thank you goes out to pre-service and in-service music educators in the Arizona State University Music Education Program and the SUNY Potsdam Crane School of Music, Music Education Program who have worked with the ideas in this article or the article itself in some form or another for providing feedback in varied ways that helped it take shape.

The article argues that well-designed and well-facilitated projects can provide rich contexts for student growth and learning and even serve as “cornerstone assessments” or aspects of student and teacher evaluations.

The article is designed to be very practical, but also includes conceptual frameworks that inform this type of teaching. It takes music educators step-by-step through 1) choosing a worthy topic, (2) finding a real-life context, (3) creating generative questions, (4) developing critical thinking and cultivating dispositions, (5) deciding the scope, and (6) designing the experience. As with anything else, designing projects and facilitating this type of learning environment takes practice!

We also demonstrate how what some people term “projects” often lacks the key characteristics of what we consider projects and aspects of project-based learning. As Larmer, Mergendoller, & Boss (2015) suggest, “when you’re designing a project, keep in mind that project-based learning is not the same as doing a project” (p. 68).

The MEJ article also addresses the following issues:

  • Situating project-based learning in the context of curriculum and standards
  • Considering cultural relevance in project-based learning
  • Addressing assessment and evaluation through project-based learning

Phil Greco (Co-author and wonderful public school music educator) maintains a Portraits of Practice website with details on implementing project-based learning in his music program. He was kind enough to share some videos that tell the story of what project-based learning brings to his own teaching contexts:


See the Consortium for Innovation and Transformation in Music Education‘s (CITME) curated list of resources related to project-based learning.

I also suggest the following general education books to help with implementing project-based learning (affiliate links below):

Here are even more curated resources for facilitating project-based learning in your music education setting.

As a final note, I am considering opening space for people to join the Inquiry and Project Based Music Teaching and Learning course that I teach at ASU via the web. Contact me if you are interested in taking the course synchronously via the web when it is next offered.

Send an email or comment below if you would like a copy of the article and do not have access to the MEJ.

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