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Help Designing a PBL School/Classroom

Help Designing a PBL School/Classroom

Related Tags: Project-Based Learning
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Our school is slated to be completely rebuilt and is currently in the design stages. When we reopen, we are considering having a Project Based Learning focus. To those of you who have taught PBL, do you have any suggestions for what needs to be included in the design of the campus and classrooms?

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Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher

Hi Sal,

Isn't it interesting that the tools which, today, can make tasks more concrete, are, themselves, so ethereal?

I have to second the vote for incorporating computing and networking technology as a key component in an ideal school design. Students respond so positively to the opportunity to use real tools! I feel as if I've only touched the tip of the iceberg with respect to computer use in my classroom. Do you ever get the notion that the field of computer technology advances so quickly that one can only ever be on the tip of the iceberg?

At my level, students repond to active tasks which allow them to investigate new ideas and learn to use new tools or procedures. Our system has traditionally used concrete manipulatives which model important ideas. These materials become more and more abstract as students progress with a concept. Finding ways to model more advanced concepts has always been a challenge at the upper elementary level.

The meeting tools you described, Sal, are the very things we adults use to make our meetings more productive. Why wouldn't we use them with students?


Asma Aamer's picture

I agree with mary Kate make a PBL programme successful, you need to introduce latest tools which help incorporate challange, investigation, research, exploration and experiential learning method. A PBL school needs to establish curriculum which invilves three main components and they are,integeration of real community and audience,integeration of all subjects with each other and the integeration of emerging technologies around the whole curriculum.All that requires a need based planning. you may start with just one computer or can initiate with large fully equipped ICT suits with multimedias, interactive boards, laptop for each learner and so on.As a part of proect management, effective use of available resources is the main essence of success.

Garreth Heidt's picture
Garreth Heidt
High School Liberal Studies teacher, Design-minded educator, Forensics Coach

Then you need to check out, in particular this page:

Fielding and Nair, the principal architects, are simply incredible when it comes to designing schools. They actually base many of their space on Multiple Intelligence theory and Brain-based learning concepts. As well, they seem to be adherents of Christopher Alexander's "A Pattern Language" and have created their own text (which I cannot recommend enough), "The Language of School Design."

Take a look at the link I copied above and scroll through the different patterns they outline. It's bound to help you. I would especially look at their "Case Studies" menu to see what they've actually designed:

Susan Riley's picture
Susan Riley
Arts Integration Specialist

I'd also like to point out that a lot of project-based learning uses teaching the content areas THROUGH the arts. The arts are all about the process and are assessed through projects and performances. Many successful PBL schools I know are also arts-integration schools. When designing your school and the organizational structure, consider where the arts will be in your building and how you will utilize them effectively in PBL. Try not to place them in a separate wing of the building, but throughout the building as core areas that can help you in implementing PBL.

Also, when structuring the school day for PBL, try to allow for the fine arts teachers (maybe not all together, but at least one every day) to also have common planning times with a grade level. This makes it easier to have the fine arts and the content area teachers collaborate to create authentically-aligned, engaging PBL units of study.

I also agree that professional development for your teachers is key to a successful PBL program. Look for ways to bring in master artists, others who have used PBL, providing some sub time so that your teachers can visit other PBL schools in action (this is KEY!), as well as providing classes and professional book clubs. If you need online training, provides classes throughout the year for both arts teachers and classroom teachers on how to effectively use arts integration and PBL. I'd also recommend the book "Artful Teaching" for hands-on ideas and processes for incorporating PBL. Best of luck on this exciting opportunity!

Scott Cusack's picture
Scott Cusack
Kindergarten teacher from Santa Clarita, California

Good input. I currently teach Kinder, but spent most of my career in upper elementary. I don't think we had considered scheduling at this point so it's good that I can bring that up.

Scott Cusack's picture
Scott Cusack
Kindergarten teacher from Santa Clarita, California

Thanks. I'll definitely explore this one.

Scott Cusack's picture
Scott Cusack
Kindergarten teacher from Santa Clarita, California

Great resources. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Scott Nine's picture

We think the iSchool ( in New York is a model worth paying attention to. They think hard about how to design courses so students are making real impact in their community (which is a key feature to make it work rather than just something cute). They also do a great job supporting their teachers to think about how to design and teach courses. I would also dito checking out High Tech High, Big Picture, and EdVisions.

In terms of physical design - if you don't know of "The Third Teacher" as a resource book - that is also recommended.

Gregg Jones's picture
Gregg Jones
alternate high school teacher, horticulture, Biology

Hi Everyone,
Just joining the site. I am excited to learn more about PBL and what you all are doing! I have been struggling for 5 years to engage and inspire my special ed students. The past couple of years I have tried to provide an "internship" experience for them working with a non profit farm. I think it is possible to engage some of them, but for the most part, ? I am interested in learning more about PBL in the classroom. Maybe that is a good way for me to start to create good learning experiences more consistently. Anyone out their working in special ed and employing PBL strategies?

Kelli Pearson's picture
Kelli Pearson
School Designer and Education Researcher

Thank you Garreth Heidt for recommending and the work of Fielding Nair International.
Scott please do check out our work on and the case studies on Also, you may email me at for any additional information. I am happy to answer any questions and offer any in site I can. I am currently working on a educational research project in Dublin Ireland ( and would also love to get some feedback from you about your experience as an educator. That is after all the essence of PBL, coming together with each others strengths and experience to find solutions for the betterment of all. :) I look forward to hearing from you!

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