Essential Future-Ready Skills Developed Through PBL

In most school districts standards and state-testing drive most curricula and classroom instruction, however, many leaders are incorporating a focus to help students succeed beyond school. Systemically, it can be a struggle trying to determine classroom priorities as teachers are evaluated on academic standard mastery on standardized tests, while community and business leaders are often concerned that students are not prepared for the world beyond school.

How can we create focused opportunities for students to become more future-ready while utilizing a standards-based curriculum and assessment system? Project/Problem-Based Learning is one option. Teachers often raise concerns about time commitments to fully engage in a PBL experience in the classroom. As a way of still providing student learning opportunities through PBL, using one PBL strategy can help to give students experiences and knowledge with minimal class-time impact.


Here are 5 future-ready skills that PBL can help foster in a standards-based classroom:

  • Curiosity: Curiosity is often defined as a strong desire to know or learn. Learners of all ages bring this idea forward by asking questions. This does not mean that someone does not have any information on a topic, but that they are open to learning more about an idea, perhaps from a different point of view. Often, this interest guides us to learn more in many possible forms which then informs our decision making. Our curiosity can also help us understand the world around us encouraging communication and potential solutions to problems. As educators, we often refer to this process as research, but it is truly being curious and wanting to learn.
  • Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving: Curiosity (Inquiry) encourages students to develop proper questions to ask and then find the answers. These answers lead to more questions and answers bringing about potential solutions to a problem. The best solution may be determined based on the audience, the purpose, and or what is best in a setting.
  • Collaboration and Communication: Providing students with opportunities to work together to define problems, develop and conduct research, brainstorm potential solutions, and communicate within the group and/or to an audience interested in the group’s work provides important skills and growth in having students work together. This can be very challenging based on individual personalities and relationships. However, in the world beyond school, this is a non-negotiable skill. It may be difficult to have students work in groups throughout the learning process, but certainly shorter activities working on one of the potential opportunities can be regularly integrated into classroom practice.
  • Social and Emotional Learning Competency Integration: These competencies can be easily addressed in every classroom using instruction and learning strategies. Many educators think of these competencies as very difficult and time-consuming making them difficult to accomplish. These competencies involve helping students become self-aware, able to self-manage, able to make responsible decisions, become socially aware, and develop relationship skills. Using real-world issues, challenges and problems can have students apply standards-based content and skills, while educators support students' personal growth and learning. An earlier blog expands on these ideas with practical strategies.
  • Career Exploration and Application: Schools are ultimately preparing students for the world beyond school. Regardless of when students enter this world, they need to understand how education connects with what they choose to do with their lives. Teachers in every classroom can and should help students understand how the classroom content is connected to careers. Students should learn about potential careers that utilize the classroom content and provide students the opportunity to apply this content through a career-based lens. This can be done with little extra time helping students learn about careers using a career context to meet standards-based requirements.


These strategies can all be independent of each other using a lesson or activity to further develop students’ future-ready skills. In PBL they are all often incorporated into an overarching process. If this overarching process is challenging in your current curricular environment, try one of these strategies to deepen learning and understanding while minimally impacting class time.


About the Author:

Dr. David L. Reese serves as Chief Academic Officer for Defined Learning. During the past twenty years, Dr. Reese has served K-12 students as a science teacher, Curriculum Specialist, and Central Office Administrator. He has taught Masters and Doctoral courses in all areas of curriculum and professional development leadership. His work focuses on providing students with engaging, relevant learning opportunities designed to encourage students to apply content from a local, national, and international perspective.


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