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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Building Rigorous Projects That Are Core to Learning (Keys to PBL Series Part 2)

Project-based learning doesn't mean leaving standards behind. Follow these tips to plan projects that challenge your students and align with core learning goals. If you're new to project-based learning, watch our intro video here.

Building Rigorous Projects That Are Core to Learning (Keys to PBL Series Part 2)(Transcript)

Steven: A lot of people think that Project Based Learning is fluff. So what we did, instead of having a three-column rubric that has "Unsatisfactory, Proficient and Advanced," we added a fourth column. It is the "Standards," what has to be taught.

Peggy: Students are going to address the content that they need to learn through this PBL approach. PBL provides the meat of the curriculum. It's not a side thing you do at the end of the unit for fun. It's really how you're engaging students in that content learning.

Lisa: I start with the standards in mind. It's called "Backwards Design." And so you start with the standards, you start with what the final exam would look like. Again, we still do have final exams, and unit exams at the end of each topic that we're learning, because they need that practice. And so I make the test ahead of time, and then I plan all of the appropriate activities that we're going to do for the project.

Steven: Our students still take assessments, district assessments, and benchmarks. We still have that accountability factor. And when our students then perform very well on those, it shows it works.

Peggy: There's really two main reasons that a teacher should use a PBL approach. And one is that the students will learn disciplinary content. I mean, that's critical. But the second equally important reason to use it is that students develop critical thinking skills while they're learning the content. They learn to collaborate with others. They have the opportunity to be creative in the way they think about the problem, and then to put their own spin on their solution to the problem.

Steven: It's a shift in the delivery of instruction. Students at this school not only get the knowledge, but they learn the application. So the knowledge then becomes relevant when they have to apply it to a real-world situation.

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Five Keys Video Series

See Edutopia's core strategies in action with our Five Keys video series. Take a deeper look at each strategy as we share the nuts and bolts of program implementation, give voice to examples from schools around the country, and illuminate the research behind the practices.

 Click here to watch "Five Keys to Rigorous Project-Based Learning

Learn more about the Five Keys to Rigorous PBL: 

  • CORE STRATEGY PAGE: Project-Based Learning

    Use this roundup page to discover why project-based learning is a dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge.

  • ARTICLE: Project-Based Learning Research Review

    Studies have proven that when implemented well, project-based learning (PBL) can increase retention of content and improve students' attitudes towards learning, among other benefits.

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