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What is Project Based Learning?

Project Based Learning, or PBL for short, is a method of teaching where students learn by engaging in real-world and personally important and meaningful projects. Students work on a project over a long period of time, answering interesting and complex questions or solving a real problem through inquiry, investigation, and critical thinking.

Examples of Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning can encompass a variety of mediums and cover so many different topics that allow students to engage with their education as well as with their school and community.

  • Students design a new playground for the school.
  • Plant and manage a garden to help feed the homeless.
  • Develop a new invention out of recycled materials.
  • Create a modern school library that inspires and encourages peers to read.
  • Redesign public transportation in your city or town.
  • Design a new recycling program for your school.
  • Design and implement a campaign to raise money or goods for the organization of your choice.
  • Create a plan for indoor recess that keeps kids moving and engaged.
  • Come up with a plan to help those who are new to town get to know their community.
  • Design a fair and comprehensive grading system for your school.

What is PBL? | Project Based Learning

How does PBL differ from regular projects?

In a traditional classroom setting, regular projects are very common. They are typically given as an assignment at the end of a unit, and meant to show what the student has learned during the unit. Typical projects include posters, slide shows, dioramas, models, etc. The unit itself is taught in the traditional way using visuals, lessons, worksheets, and various reading components. Project Based Learning, on the other hand, is the unit. It is meant to teach academic content as well as success skills and critical thinking skills.

By engaging in a certain question or problem over an extended period of time, students become immersed in it, and work in a variety of manners to learn and gain answers. Through the learning process, students apply what they know in meaningful ways, and are able to see the impact that their work has on the real world. Student projects are presented in a public way, not only to their classmates, teachers, and family, but to others around the community, with the hopes of making a real difference. PBL focuses on the process and collaboration, while a regular project is merely an end to a unit.

Key Elements of PBL

Project based learning may look different for any given student in any given classroom. It is flexible and diverse, and that is what makes it such a strong learning concept. There are, however, certain elements that must be in place in order to promote deeper learning, strong engagement, and high quality work. These elements include the following:

A Challenging Problem or Question

What the project is “about” is a problem to investigate and solve, or a question that is explored and answered. If the students are engaged in these and maybe even have the opportunity to choose them, the project will be more meaningful to them. Students are not gaining knowledge just to remember and memorize, they are learning because they want to, and have a real need to know something and apply it to the real world.

Sustained Inquiry

Rather than simply “looking it up”, inquiry is more of an in-depth process that takes more time and effort. While the process most likely will include research in books and online, it will also include different sources such as interviews with experts, providers, and consumers.


In education, the term “authenticity” has to do with something’s connection to the “real world”. If a task at hand is relevant and relatable, students will be more motivated and connected to it. Knowing that their project could actually have an impact on real people is key to students immersing themselves completely into the assignment.

Student Voice and Choice

Having a say in what their project is about creates a sense of pride, responsibility, and ownership in students and naturally makes them care more and want to work harder. If students have input and a great deal of control over many aspects of the project, they can go further and challenge themselves in many different ways.


Throughout the project, students and teachers reflect on what, how, and why they are learning. Focusing on the learning process helps guide participants in improving the process and quality of future projects.

Critique and Revision

Students should be taught how to give and accept teacher and peer feedback, and how to use it to improve or change their development process. This sets them up to succeed well past the boundaries of the project at hand.

Public Product

Creating a public product is important for three reasons. First, knowing that their projects will be shared with the public is highly motivating, and will make students want to produce high quality work. They will want to present their work with pride and are more likely to take it seriously. Second, by creating and sharing a product, students feel that their work is tangible and real. Rather than just something that is handed in to the teacher and graded, their work has a real impact and sense of importance. Finally, making student work public is a wonderful outlet to showcase the importance of PBL and what it does for students and the community; it is more than just test scores.

Teaching Practices of PBL

Design and Plan: Teachers create or adapt a project to meet the curriculum needs and the needs of their students. Teachers also plan how it will be implemented while leaving room for students' choice and opinion.

Align to Standards: Teachers use statewide standards to plan and make sure the project addresses key points of understanding.

Build the Culture: Teachers explicitly make students aware that they will be independent and rely on inquiry, teamwork, positive thinking, and attention to quality in order to succeed.

Manage Activity: Teachers work with students to organize, set goals, schedules, and deadlines, find and use resources, create meaningful projects, and make them public.

Scaffold Student Learning: Students will use a variety of lessons, tools, and strategies to ensure that all students are reaching project goals at their own level and pace.

Assess Student Learning: Teachers use formative and summative assessments throughout the process in order to measure knowledge, understanding, and collaboration. Students will also self and peer assess.

Encourage and Coach: Teachers learn and create alongside their students, and help when encouragement, redirection, and celebration is needed.

Benefits of Project Based Learning

Benefits of PBL

Project based learning has a very positive impact on students. It blends meaningful work, independence, personal connection, and collaboration all while mastering content and promoting academic achievement. Students feel a great deal of pride while engaging in projects that have real-world relevance and are important to their community. Students also learn on a deeper level: they are able to apply what they have learned and created to new situations, and are able to share their knowledge with others in the community. PBL also fosters a deep connection between teachers and students. Teachers entrust students to take the lead, and students respect that trust and want to succeed. The love of learning and engagement is shared between teachers and students as they work together to produce meaningful work. Finally, students gain several skills needed for success in the future, such as collaboration, communication, responsibility, flexibility, and compromise.

How can teachers and students use Storyboard That for Project Based Learning?

There are many ways that Storyboard That can be used for PBL, from planning, to designing, to creating a presentation. There are endless possibilities, but here are a few that make it easy to get started.

Brochures: Brochures are an excellent way to use words and illustrations to show what you’ve learned or what you have created. Brochures can be used in PBL to showcase an invention or a new product that a student has come up with. Brochures can also be used to educate the students’ target audience on the topic of the project itself.

Posters: Posters can be used as part of the planning process or as part of a final presentation, which is especially relevant for SEL lessons. Storyboard That poster templates are a creative way to showcase what the student has learned or created during their PBL experience.

Timelines: Storyboard That timelines are an excellent resource for students who want to visually plan out their PBL project. They are customizable and students can edit at any time if their project timing changes.

Slideshow: After creating a storyboard presentation, students are able to download it as a slideshow. This makes sharing ideas easy and fun! Students are able to add additional text to their presentations to ensure they've included all relevant and important information.

How to Design Effective Project-Based Learning (PBL) Experiences


Define the Learning Goals and Objectives

Identify the specific learning goals and objectives you want students to achieve through the project. Align these goals with the curriculum standards or specific content areas.


Select an Engaging and Relevant Project Topic

Choose a project topic that is meaningful, relevant, and captures students' interest. Consider real-world connections, current events, or student passions to increase engagement.


Plan the Project Scope and Timeline

Determine the scope and timeline of the project, breaking it down into manageable stages or milestones. Consider the available time, resources, and any constraints or limitations.


Design Authentic Assessment Strategies

Develop assessment strategies that align with the project goals and allow for meaningful evaluation of student learning. Include both formative assessments (e.g., checkpoints, reflections) and summative assessments (e.g., final presentations, portfolios).


Scaffold and Support Student Learning

Provide appropriate scaffolds, resources, and supports to guide students through the project. Consider differentiation strategies to meet the diverse needs of learners and provide necessary guidance.


Foster Collaboration and Reflection

Encourage collaboration, teamwork, and effective communication among students throughout the project. Incorporate regular opportunities for reflection and metacognition to deepen learning and self-assessment.

Frequently Asked Questions about Project Based Learning

How is PBL different from traditional teaching methods?

In traditional teaching methods, the teacher is usually the primary source of information, and the students are expected to memorize and reproduce information. In PBL, students take ownership of their learning and are actively engaged in the process of discovering and constructing knowledge. PBL also emphasizes the development of skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and collaboration, which are essential for success in the 21st century.

What are the benefits of PBL?

PBL has been shown to have many benefits for students, including:

  • Increased engagement and motivation
  • Deeper understanding of concepts
  • Development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Improved collaboration and communication skills
  • Preparation for real-world experiences and careers

How can teachers assess student learning in PBL?

Assessment in PBL is typically formative and ongoing, with teachers providing feedback and guidance throughout the project. Final assessments may take the form of presentations, products, or performances that demonstrate student learning and mastery of the learning objectives. Rubrics are often used to assess student work and provide clear expectations and criteria for success.

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