If you only understand something in one way, you don't understand it at all. ~Marvin Minsky

Step-by-Step Guidelines (mostly from Buck Institute for Education)

Edutopia's PBL Framework, Videos, and Articles

  • Why is PBL Important? Why Change How I Teach?
    Teachers see fads and mandates come and go that try to change how they teach. What makes PBL different from other school or district initiatives. It really is a BIG DEAL!
  • How Does Project-Based Learning Work?
    Edutopia's 6-step model with clear explanations. There's a complete PDF chapter available for each step if you would like to delve more deeply into any section for examples and ideas.
  • How to Put the Rigor in Project-Based Learning
    Seven key tips from a former skeptic who is now a PBL teacher leader! If you care about quality, this page is for you.
  • Seeing PBL in Action: Videos!
    (Scroll down the page to find the Videos) The George Lucas Educational Foundation provides videos on middle school project-based learning. See PBL in action and listen to comments by teachers, kids, and researchers. A fantastic resource filled with ideas for your classes.
  • Tips to Replicate Project-Based Learning Success Here are key lessons from 5 middle schools and 1 high school from their second year of transitioning to a project-based learning model based on High Tech High. Review this document thoroughly for realistic expectations!

PBL Organizations and Resource Collections

Other Models and Examples

  • Big Picture School Internships and Work Learning
    Pioneered by the wildly successful Met School in Rhode Island, the Big Picture model of individualized, in-community learning through work has spread across the nation. Their system provides meaningful learning to students while preparing them to enter their community. Their graduation and college admission rates are through the roof!
  • Introduction to Inquiry Learning from YouthLearn
    This provides a fine discussion of the value of project-based and inquiry-based learning that is especially valuable to share with parents and the community. It's focus, however, is more on after-school programs, although its justifications also support PBL as projects in traditional classrooms.

Designing Assessment by Performance Tasks

  • Great system to design project-based assessment: the G.R.A.S.P.S. system
    The G.R.A.S.P.S. model helps you think about and structure performance tasks for authentic assessment: Goal, Role, Audience, Situation, Product/Performance (and Purpose), Success criteria (standards). This is a 15-page handout from Wiggins & McTighe that provide samples, templates, and guidance for creating meaningful assessment of project-based learning.

Helpful Videos and Readings

  • Exemplar: Bate Middle School
    5-min video of PBL at the Bate Middle School in Danville, Kentucky. Note their low-key, but omnipresent use of technology. Your school doesn't have to be technology rich, but technology resources can help each project team in many ways.
  • Best Practices in Project-Based Learning
    The Best Practices used by Manor New Technology High School near Austin, Texas, to achieve a 98% graduation rate and 96% college admission rate. Top practice is PBL, 2nd is professional development, 3rd is technology integration.
  • Long-Term Projects for 5-Year Olds!
    This is a charming 9-min video showing long-term projects for 5-yr olds. This helps you see how kids get engaged in projects in ways that they contextualize their learning and remember it well.
  • Austin's Butterfly: Critique and Iterative Revision
    Great 5-minute story of 1st grader Austin progressively refining his butterfly drawing in response to 1st graders' critiques. A memorable video and lesson.
  • Understanding by Design & Defined STEM (white paper)
    Short article (11 pp.) by Jay McTighe and Dave Reese draw connections between the best understood method of effective lesson/unit design and the resources of Defined STEM. The appendix on cognitive foundations is unusually clear and helpful.

Apple's Challenge-Based Learning Resources and White Papers (9th-grade focus)

  • Challenge-Based Learning Resources
    This Website compiles challenge-based learning resources of many kinds. The term "challenge-based learning" is essentially the same as PBL. It's not an Apple advertisement (nor are the resources below)
  • Challenge-Based Learning Whitepaper
    This Apple PDF Whitepaper gives an introduction to their planning model with several examples. Most of the document contains detailed examples and resources for actual PBL projects.
  • Challenge-Based Learning: An approach for our time
    This PDF research paper from the New Media Consortium discusses challenge-based learning using the Apple framework and examples. This provides in-depth discussion of the rationale, methods, and results of PBL in practice.
  • Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow - Today
    This PDF document describes the background of the challenge-based learning initiative and it's potential role in transforming secondary education.


We're confronted by insurmountable opportunity!
-- Pogo (Walt Kelly)

About this topic

Description: Several related strategies have arisen to more deeply engage students and to improve their ability to apply learning in meaningful ways. These related learning strategies have been called: project-based, inquiry-based, problem-based, and challenged-based. While there may be minor differences between them, they all approach learning in a way that is fundamentally different from traditional classroom practice. For simplicity, we will call all of these "Project-Based Learning" or "PBL."

Rather than focus on daily assignments that address a narrow skill or concept that is disconnected from the student's life and community, PBL strives to create meaningful learning tasks for students. This is done by framing the learning activity as part of a BIG IDEA to which the student can empathically or emotionally relate. The student is given appropriate structure for the project but is also given latitude in its execution so that it can be developed in a personally-relevant manner. The important part of the project is not its "grade" as much as the meaning that is developed in the student.

There are many innovations that overlap discussions and implementations of PBL including Understanding by Design (UbD), the value of risk and failure on the path to learning, STEM initiatives, Common Core standards, authentic assessment, deep learning, and lots more. You'll know some of them and may be new to others. Most are simple ideas that can be grasped with a few examples and some practice (though it takes years to change one's teaching style and methods!).

This sounds very abstract, but the frameworks and examples in the links to the right will give any interested teacher a way to understand and to carry out PBL-style learning projects with any age student.

View a work-in-progress Wikibook on Transformative Applications in Education.

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