411 on PBL

Project-based learning (PBL) involves completing complex tasks that typically result in a realistic product, event, or presentation 
to an audience.

Linda Darling-Hammond
Powerful Learning: What We Know About Teaching for Understanding (2008, 35)

“PBL” exists as an acronym for several inquiry-driven methods of teaching and learning: project-based learning, problem-based learning, place-based learning, and passion-based learning (to name a few). Whatever the specifics, PBL utilizes active exploration and discovery. One participating in PBL is not a passive consumer of knowledge, but an engaged creator of understanding, as one works to “figure out something” that does not have an easily-provided answer or solution.

Bo Adams and Jill Gough believe that PBL runs a spectrum that they refer to as “lower-case pbl” to “upper-case PBL.” Like Bloom’s Taxonomy, the full spectrum is valuable, but higher-order thinking resides at the side of the spectrum labeled “upper-case PBL.” Projects at this PBL end of the spectrum are characterized by two primary attributes: 1) the projects address current issues in the learners’ communities and world, and 2) the projects include “authentic audiences” (the projects involve collaboration and assessment from more people than the classroom teacher alone). One of the best examples of upper-case PBL that Bo and Jill have found can be viewed in the November 2009 TED Talk “Kiran Bir Sethi teaches kids to take charge.”

While Bo and Jill remain most interested in researching and practicing the upper-case PBL that “blurs the lines between life and school” and “infects learners with the I Can bug,” they recommend a number of resources to consider as you take your own journey of exploration and discovery about employing projects, problems, places, and passions to ignite curiosity and promote citizenship among learners of all ages.

(Always under construction…suggest more in comments!)

Apple Challenge-Based Learning (CBL)

Apple provides educators with a framework for using challenges to engage in PBL (called CBL in Apple-speak). Look at the big-picture view of this framework with the linked title above, and be sure to scroll to the bottom of that page for another collection of solid resources, including example challenges and zoomed-in explanations of the key elements of CBL.

Brightworks School

“Brightworks is a school that reimagines K-12 education. By taking the best practices from both early childhood education and hands-on, project-based experiential learning, we strive to meet students’ needs in a flexible, mixed-age environment that breaks the traditional walls between school and the community outside the classroom. We offer a broad-spectrum learning environment designed to encourage creative capacity, tenacity, and citizenship.”

Buck Institute for Education (BIE)

The BIE site is really quite amazing! In addition to the fantastic “video,” “research,” and “community” links, BIE offers a number of superb tools. One of the most helpful tools for people getting started with PBL is the “PBL – Do-It-Yourself” kit. BIE also offers workshops and professional-learning services.

Design Thinking for Educators

Design Thinking for Educators offers another excellent resource for PBL development and design.  The toolkit for educators “contains the process and methods of design, adapted specifically for the context of education.” This site “provides guidance through the five phases of the design process.  The toolkit offers a variety of instructional methods to choose from, including concise explanations, useful suggestions and tips.”


Truthfully, the entire Edutopia site is wonderfully rich and resourceful. Nevertheless, we think the “Schools that Work” link is particularly helpful for locating examples of PBL by selecting certain search terms. Making PBL learning visible is invaluable as we all attempt to enhance our capacities as PBL facilitators.

High Tech High School

The Gary and Jerri-Ann Jacobs High Tech High is the original High Tech High school. Founded in the fall of 2000, the school is located at HTH Village in San Diego and serves approximately 570 students in grades 9-12.” The “Projects” and “Videos” links are particularly interesting and helpful.

Project Based Learning (PBL Online)

PBL Online collaborates with BIE to provide a suggested design framework for PBL (“Designing Your Project” is a great resource). Additionally, PBL Online maintains a “collaboratory” and PBL library. The site also links to research and other resources for PBL.

(Always under construction…suggest more in comments!)

  • It’s About Learning (Bo Adams’ blog…search categories and tags for “CBL, DBL, PBL” and “Synergy”)
  • Experiments in Learning by Doing (Jill Gough’s blog…search categories and tags for “PBL” and “Synergy”)
  • 21k12 (Jonathan Martin’s blog…search tags for “PBL” as a start)
  • Wright’s Room (Shelley Wright’s blog…peruse because Shelley has a lot of uncategorized posts about PBL that are amazing)

(Always under construction…suggest more in comments!)

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