What is meaningful PBL?

As educators with the Buck Institute for Education, we provide professional development to help schools set up a sustained program of in-depth Project-Based Learning throughout a district, network, or state. In our work with teachers, we have identified seven essential elements of meaningful projects.

My colleagues John Larmer and John Mergendoller were recently published in ASCD's Educational Leadership magazine. The article goes over (in context) the Eight Essentials for Project-Based Learning, which are what every good project needs.  

  1. Significant Content
  2. A Need to Know
  3. A Driving Question
  4. Student Voice and Choice
  5. 21st Century Skills
  6. Inquiry and Innovation
  7. Feedback and Revision
  8. Publicly Presented Product

The hypothetical project described in the ASCD article was inspired by a real project, "Media Saves the Beach," carried out by the students of Humanities teacher, Randy Scherer, and Biology teacher, Brandon Davidson at High Tech High. The following video highlights the first year the project was completed.

  For a student reflection about the project, visit HTH Unboxed: A Journal of Adult Learning in Schools.   Reflecting after a project is also a key element to Project Based Learning. BIE has free downloads available for Student & Teacher Reflection Post-Project Work.   A lot of our PBL community have also downloaded the Project Essentials Checklist, which could be used for a quick evaluation of a project's design, to see if it includes all the essential elements of meaningful PBL.     Watch the Media Saves the Beach video along with the checklist for some "in-house" professional development at a staff meeting. This is a great way for your staff to start defining what is "meaningful" PBL to them.     Educational choices should be just as diverse as the population they serve. PBL will be different for everyone. PBL should be different for everyone. But all good projects like all great teaching have commonality. We understand that learning how to fish is the goal, but the Eight Essential Elements help to determine what fish to catch...or throw back.