Project Based Learning: Gold Standards

PBLWorks is the gold standard for Project Based Learning(PBL).  They provide many resources for teachers wishing to adopt PBL into their curriculum.  PBL is different from just completing a project; the goal of the PBL is to provide a rigorous learning environment where the student learning goals are centered but and students learn to solve problems by answering complex questions and creating high-quality work (Larmer, 2020).

PBL, the learning goals are surrounded in the project.  According to PBLWorks and Larmer (2020), there are six essential elements of project design:

  • Challenge Problem or question
  • Sustained Inquiry
  • Authenticity
  • Student Voice and Choice
  • Reflection
  • Critique and Revision
  • Public Product

Not all projects meet these standards, the following three videos from Edutopia show an array of projects that all engage the students in some manner.  The projects demonstrated clearly showed sustain inquiry, student choice, and authenticity. The role of the teacher was as the guide and coach, teachers are not lecturing and do not have all the answers.  Teachers are providing support to help the students. They are helping foster inquiry as well as the critique of the public products.  These products were given in a variety of ways as an open house for the parents, presentations to experts, and posted on the internet.

The first video explored is from Newsome Park Elementary (Curtis, 2001). This is a demonstration of the school implementing PBL in all of its classrooms, the entire building has made the shift, concepts are taught through inquiry-based learning. Elementary students explored worms, cystic fibrosis, and creating a business (with a planned hostile takeover from another group). They were clearly student-centered, and the learning objectives were taught through the project.  Students were learning core concepts as they studied projects, and had products produced using technology (slide presentations, docs, research, and mindmaps).  Students put together a trifold board of their projects to share with the school-wide community including parents (Curtis, 2001). Despite the seven-minute video not demonstrating essential questions, it appears that this school has strong PBL learning and is using authentic learning in the classrooms instead of textbooks. Since this article was 20 years old, I looked up the school, and its mission statement states: “ Students are expected to solve problems and produce quality products that will enable them to increase their competencies to continue learning independently.” I believe they have continued their journey with PBL and could be seen as a gold standard.

The second video explores a geometry class project (Armstrong, 2002). Here the driving question is clearly present. Students are tasked to “design a 2000 student high school to meet learning needs in 2050, fitting it on a given site” (Armstrong, 2002). As someone who taught math, this project excited me. It seems to have all the makings of a gold standard project: Driving question, check, sustain inquiry -six weeks, check, authenticity- its a school, check, student’s voice- their design,  check, reflection, critique and public product (check, check and check). Technology also abounds in this project, from the design of the school, presentation, and understanding of topiary maps. However, something is stopping me from stating it is a gold standard, the project is done at the end of the year bringing together what they learned and applying it. According to Eductopia’s (2014)  video “Five Keys to Rigorous Project-Based Learning” core to learning is essential for a PBL project. The project should be the way they learn the content, this has also been my understanding as well.  This project is by no means fluff but not really seeing a written outline I am unsure if students have other core standards learned through the project. While I understand reinforcement of skills learned is important,  I could argue that it might not meet the true definition since it is used as a cumulative project.  I love the project and can see how some of the Common Core Standards in Mathematicscould be woven in. 

The final video demonstrates students learning to be scientists through the use of Journey North and Butterfly Migration. The project explores citizen science, how to create data, understanding of geography.  This is authentic learning, students are writing letters, creating butterflies to send to others, taking measurements and observations outside (Curtis, 2002).  They are reporting the information publicly. This is rich in technology from using digital cameras, creating slides, and recording their information on the website (Curtis,2002).  I struggle with this being a gold standard for two reasons.  The first is the driving question, while I can think of a few different driving questions, I am not sure one is presented to the students. I am also unsure how much students voice is present since they are reporting on a particular website.  Listening to the teacher, Fran Kootz discusses the project,  the students become more independent with the learning, thus taking ownership of the project, which would be a way students voice is present in the learning.   I would like to give this one a gold star, as I believe Ms. Kootz has adapted the Journey North in a way that would qualify as a PBL project.

If you have any thoughts about my reviews please let me know in the comments!


Armstrong, S. (2002, February 11). Geometry students angle into architecture through project learning. Edutopia. Retrieved September 12, 2021, from

Curtis, D. (2001, October 1). More fun than a barrel of . . . worms?! Edutopia. Retrieved September 12, 2021, from

Curtis, D. (2002, June 6). March of the monarchs: Students follow butterflies’ migration. Edutopia. Retrieved September 12, 2021, from

Edutopia. (2014, June 26). Five keys to rigorous Project-Based Learning [Video]. You Tube.

Larmer, J. (2020, July 22). Gold standard PBL: Essential project design elements. PBL Works. Retrieved September 12, 2021, from

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