What is Project-Based Learning?

  • Project-based learning (PBL) is a way of learning in which students acquire content knowledge and skills in order to answer a driving question based on an authentic challenge, need, problem or concern.

  • Project-based learning is done collaboratively and within groups using a variety of employability skills such as critical thinking, communication, and creativity.

  • PBL allows for student voice and choice as well as inquiry.

  • Authentic PBL involves a community partner and a publicly presented product.

  • Project-based learning also involves an ongoing process of reflection.

Project-based learning units include the following CORE components:

  • Content Knowledge & Skills

  • Authenticity & Relevance: Addresses a real-world challenge, need, problem, or concern

  • Inquiry

  • Student Voice & Choice

  • Collaboration

  • Employability (21st Century) Skills

  • Community Partnerships

  • Feedback & Revision

  • Publicly Presented Product

  • Reflection

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Projects vs. Project-Based Learning


  • A culminating event that happens at the end of the unit after all student learning has already taken place.

  • The knowledge and skills taught in the unit are not necessarily needed to complete the project and the project itself does not typically reflect all of the student learning.

  • Oftentimes the project has no real-world connection and after being graded the project is no longer used.

Project-based learning unit:

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  • It poses an authentic problem, challenge, need, or issue at the start of the unit in the form of an entry event.

  • Students receive the rubrics outlining what tasks or end products they will have to create.

  • From the very start of the project students see their need to learn the course content and skills in order to complete each step or benchmark of the project.

  • Their end goal is clear from the beginning and their learning is meaningful because they need the content and skills in order to solve the problem, challenge, need, or issue that has been posed to them.

  • The PBL unit involves a community partner and ends with a publicly presented product that will be used even after the unit has been completed.

Traditional Unit with culminating Project Example Using Standards

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Project-Based Learning Unit with benchmarks example Using Standards

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Benefits of Project-Based Learning

  • Student & Teacher Engagement

    • In PBL classrooms, students demonstrate improved attitudes toward learning. They exhibit more engagement, are more self-reliant, and have better attendance than in more traditional school settings. (Thomas, 2000; Walker & Leary, 2009)

    • Teachers may need time and professional development to become familiar with PBL methods, but those who make this shift in classroom practice report increased job satisfaction. (Hixson, Ravitz, & Whisman, 2012; Strobel & van Barneveld, 2009)

    • Most (PBL) facilitators express that they have greater (enjoyment of their role as teachers within a PBL classroom setting)teacher satisfaction (Cho & Brown 2013) 

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  • Helps develop employability (21st Century) Skills

    • Research has also found that PBL helps develop employability skills also known as 21st century skills. When teachers are trained in PBL methods, they devote more class time to teaching 21st century skills; their students perform at least as well on standardized tests as students engaged in traditional instruction. (Hixson, Ravitz, & Whisman, 2012)

    • Across the 21st century skills included in this study, real world problem-solving is the significant driver of high work quality. (Pearson Foundation/Microsoft 2013)

    • Students demonstrate better problem-solving skills in PBL than in more traditional classes and are able to apply what they learn to real-life situations. (Finkelstein et al., 2010) 

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  • Provides College & Career readiness

    • Research has also shown that PBL provides college and career readiness. Students in a high-fidelity, successful PBL model such as New Tech Network students consistently enroll in college after their first year of high school at a higher rate than the national average. New Tech Network students consistently return for their second year of college at a higher rate than the national average for both four and two year colleges.

    • Developing 21st Century skills in the last year of school is positively correlated with higher perceived work quality later in life. (Pearson Foundation and Microsoft in 2013)

    • In fact, those who have high 21st century skill development are twice as likely to have higher work quality compared to those who had low 21st century skill development. (Pearson Foundation/Microsoft 2013)


  • It Can Help Close the Equity/Achievement Gap

    • A study done by Pearson Foundation and Microsoft in 2013 reported that the majority of respondents reported that they agree or strongly agree that they developed most of the skill they use in their current job outside of school. (Pearson Foundation/Microsoft 2013)

    • Whereas PBL enables students to actually develop skills that they’ll use in current and future jobs while they are still in a school setting. It gives them an upper hand or advantage in obtaining those skills before they leave school.

    • PBL shows promise as a strategy for closing the achievement gap by engaging lower- achieving students. (Boaler, 2002; Penuel & Means, 2000) 

    • PBL can work in different types of schools, serving diverse learners. (Hixson, Ravitz, & Whisman, 2012). “A study of 3,000 middle school students showed that (all)  kids can, in fact, learn more in science classrooms that adopt a well-designed, project-focused curriculum.” 

*For more information about PBL go to Resources: Project-Based Learning Tools.