Saturday, March 10, 2018

Exploring Project-Based Learning Examples

Hey teacher friends!

Today I want to talk a little bit about project-based learning (PBL).  Lately I've been exploring it in my graduate courses and in my classroom.  Honestly, I have always been nervous to implement project-based learning because it is more challenging than whole group curriculum instruction.  However, I'm feeling more confident as I explore how other teachers have used PBL in their classrooms.

Here are some amazing examples of PBL from Edutopia.  This website has a wealth of information from teachers who write about their experiences.  Click on the names of the articles to learn more about each PBL learning experience: 

My personal favorite was March of the Monarchs, which had an amazing project that goes with the program, Journey North. The Journey North website is a resource that connects you with students around the nation that track migration patterns of various animals and insects. There is a lot of exciting learning experiences in these three examples of PBL, so I created this chart below so you could see the key elements:

Click on the image above for a downloadable PDF version

To help me determine the common qualities in each of these examples, I used the "Gold Standard" that Larmer & Mergendoller explain on their PBL Blog (2013).  They explain that the "Gold Standard"assists teachers and schools to measure and improve their practices in PBL (Larmer & Mergendoller, 2013).  Their standards have three parts, which include:

  1. Student Learning Goals - Students should be working on a project that integrates the key content standards, but they should also integrate 21st century skills.
  2. Essential Project Design Elements - 
    1. Challenging Problem or Question
    2. Sustained Inquiry
    3. Authenticity
    4. Student Voice and Choice
    5. Reflection
    6. Critique and Revision
    7. Public Product 
  3. Project Based Teaching Practices 

As I reflect on the three PBL experiences from Edutopia, I noticed that they met almost all of the "Gold Standard" elements.  Each project began with a real-world problem or question, such as "Can you design a 2,000-student high school to meet learning needs in 2050, fitting it on a given site?" (Armstrong, 2002).  All of the projects connected the students to the vital content and inspired them to search for more information.  I could tell that the students had a drastic increase in engagement and that they were excited to seek out new information.  One student had mentioned that she "went home on the first day of the assignment and couldn't sleep, out of excitement about her team's ideas" (Armstrong, 2002).  That statement made me stop and think, "Wow! I want my students to feel that type of enthusiasm for our classroom projects!"

In addition, all of the teachers helped to structure the project into attainable parts.  They provided the students with tools, they connected them to real-world experts, and they guided them through each step.  Even though it is a lot of planning and preparation for the teacher, the students are doing the hard work.  The students had to "explore, make judgments, interpret, and synthesize information in meaningful ways" ("What Is," 2007).  Lastly, in all three examples of PBL the students had to create a final product.  Amazingly, they used technology and 21st century skills, such as communication, collaboration, creativity, and problem solving to help them create their final product.

When I think about all of the planning and preparation that is necessary for a PBL project, I definitely feel overwhelmed.  But if you break your PBL project into smaller sections and create essential questions to lead you through each part of the project, then I believe it would be easier to manage.  I am still learning as I go, but I thought that a checklist would help me to follow the "Gold Standard" according to Larmer & Mergendoller (2013).

Click on the image above for a downloadable PDF version


Armstrong, S. (2002, February 11). Geometry Students Angle into Architecture Through Project Learning. Retrieved March 05, 2018, from

Curtis, D. (2002, June 6). March of the Monarchs: Students Follow the Butterflies' Migration, Retrieved March 05, 2018, from

Ellis, K. (2001, October 1). Retrieved March 05, 2018, from

Larmer, J., & Mergendoller, J. R. (2015, April 21). Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements. Retrieved March 10, 2018, from

What Is Project-Based Learning About? (2007, October 19). Retrieved March 10, 2018, from


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