How to Get Started with PBL

A few years ago, after reading some books over the summer (LAUNCH and Pure Genius) and doing some reflection, I realized that what I had been doing was not authentic Project-Based Learning (PBL). Instead, I had simply been doing projects based on learning, quite different than the authentic, high-quality PBL that can lead to an increase in student engagement and helps students to develop many of the critical skills that will prepare them for their future. Through my projects, I  was providing students with choices and opportunities to collaborate and work with peers, to choose how to show their learning, but it was only for a short-term learning goal. We had focused on the end product rather than the process and all of the learning potential involved along the way.


In order to make some changes, I decided to consult some of the resources out there for project-based learning. I first consulted BIE (Buck Institute for Education) and searched through the site, found some helpful resources, especially focusing on and learning the essential elements of implementing project-based learning. It can seem like a big task to take on, however there are so many resources available, especially with tips for implementing PBL  into the K-12 classroom. Defined Learning offers so many educator stories of implementing PBL in their classrooms and focusing on inquiry-based learning. I recommend reading about these educator experiences and start thinking about how to bring PBL to your students or do something a bit different with it.

There are different methods of implementing PBL, it can be done with a teacher created project theme, or as I did, based on independent choice. In my foreign language classes, I wanted to give my students the opportunity to explore an area of personal interest or to connect with real-world issues, such as learning about the Global Goals and the “Teach SDGs.”  Being able to explore global goals, or look into world or even community issues and work through a plan to offer solutions, create new connections, will be of great benefit to students for seeing value in their work.


In my experience, I opened up the choices to students and then asked them to share their ideas, using one of our communication tools of Kidblog, Voxer, or Remind, so we had the ideas to refer back to. It gave me an opportunity to listen to their thoughts or read their ideas and provide feedback, ask other questions to consider, and gave me practice in helping them craft an “Essential question.” Essential questions are not answered simply with a yes or no, or a Google search. The purpose is to explore deeper questions that will lead students on a journey of inquiry, self-guided research, collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving and, most importantly, authentic, independent learning..

If you have an opportunity to collaborate with other teachers, it can be of great benefit for you and your students . I also found it to be quite helpful and important to get feedback from my students. I was curious about their thoughts of PBL, did they have enough time, did they notice a difference between doing projects?  


As with PBL being an iterative process requiring reflection, it is perfect for teachers for this reason. We always have room to grow and can find new ways to implement PBL into our classrooms, and even pulling in concepts of STEM or STEAM. There are similar concepts to Project Based Learning, some will engage in Problem or Challenge Based Learning, Inquiry Based Learning, or Design Thinking.

What I have learned most is that PBL can help us to learn about our students and for our students to become more globally aware. We can learn about their passions and interests. As educators, we should be focusing on how we can create unique, authentic and meaningful opportunities for students to explore something that is of interest to them, and in a way that connects them and prepares them for whatever they decide to do in the future. Being able to explore issues, work through challenges, find resources and to move away from focusing on an end product, but rather focus on the what and why behind learning and the process involved, will be of tremendous value for student learning.


Probably one of my biggest takeaways after working through PBL that first year, was that understanding concepts of  Design Thinking and the purpose and need for iteration and reflection are important for getting started with PBL. We want to model pushing past the “end product” and guide students on a learning journey, where they are continuing to discover new information, come up with more questions, and find new avenues to explore.  I encourage educators everywhere to begin thinking about implementing high-quality PBL in their classrooms. It is a great way to help students develop more of a growth mindset, to learn about the world around them, to dream big and become the drivers of their learning.

About the Author:

Rachelle Dene Poth has been teaching at Riverview High School in Pennsylvania for the past 21 years.  Rachelle currently teaches Spanish and a STEAM course What’s nExT? In Emerging Technology. Rachelle is an attorney and has a Master’s Degree in Instructional Technology. She was President-Elect of the Teacher Education Network and Communications Chair for the Mobile Learning Network and was selected as one of “20 to watch” by the NSBA and received the PAECT Outstanding Teacher of the Year for 2017. At ISTE 2017 San Antonio, Rachelle received the Presidential Silver Award for Volunteer Service to Education.  She is a regular blogger for Getting Smart and Kidblog.  Find Rachelle regularly on Twitter @Rdene915.


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