High Quality Project Based Learning: What Our Students Deserve

Have you ever walked into a classroom and found a sea of dioramas and wondered what students really learned? Was it worth the investment of time?  

Many of the existing frames of reference for how to design for and lead project-based learning are focused on the teacher. What do teachers need to know and be able to do to create constructivist experiences in which students learn essential content and skills through the process of creating a product to address a problem or challenge? In so many ways, this makes sense. Teachers are the direct line to students. 

Numerous organizations, academics, and school networks have developed their own models for project-based learning; however, when you scan across the field, the work students are doing and producing varies widely.

Enter High-Quality Project-Based Learning. With the generous support of the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the Project Management Institute Education Foundation, the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) brought together a 27-person strong steering committee and 90 advisors to develop a shared standard for project-based learning. The culmination of their efforts resulted in a 6-part framework that focused on what students learn, do, or experience in a high-quality project. Here are the six criteria. 

Criteria for High-Quality Project-Based Learning: 

  1. Intellectual Challenge and Accomplishment
  2. Authenticity
  3. Public Product
  4. Collaboration
  5. Project Management
  6. Reflection

The HQPBL Framework is not yet widely known. At Applied Coaching for Projects (ACP), we felt it was important to elevate this framework. 

The HQPBL team developed the framework with the intention of it being shared by the PBL community. They envisioned that organizations, regardless of their operating PBL model, would use the six HQPBL criteria as a quality tool to ensure that their students were engaged in effective PBL. You can learn more about the research basis here as written by Dr. John R. Mergendoller, Senior Fellow at the Buck Institute for Education. 

The HQPBL Framework is not yet widely known, but we think it's excellent and deserves to be elevated. That's why we wrote this book, HQPBL Connected: An Educator's Guide to Creating Meaningful Project-based Student Experiences. In the book, we break down each of the six criteria and offer guidance for getting started using the framework. This is our contribution to advancing the aims of HQPBL and growing the project-based learning community. 

What to expect

This book, all 80+ pages of it, we are lovingly calling a mini-book. It is intended to be a “getting to know you” for the framework. Chapters are organized around the six HQPBL Criteria and leverage the same structure. 

  • What It Is - Defines the criteria and breaks down the guiding questions. 
  • What It Looks Like In Action - What criteria look like in the various stages of the HQPBL Experience.  
  • Getting Started - General considerations to get you started.
  • Top 3 Tips - Let our experience be another one of your teachers! 
  • Additional Resources - Links and other places to continue the learning. 

If you are an experienced PBL practitioner, use the book to review your current project experiences. Where are you already putting the framework into practice? What are the opportunities to strengthen PBL experiences for your students? For those of you new to PBL, use the book to build a foundational understanding of what high-quality project-based learning looks like. We include an outline of the HQPBL Learning Experience components and the relevant project steps.


We know there is much more ground to cover and look forward to doing so in forthcoming offerings. Thank you for joining us in this first step!

Want to learn more?

This exciting new publication is available in electronic and Kindle format (with hardcopy on the way too). If you’d like to learn more about our team of project-based learning experts, visit our site

About the Author

Dr. Gina Olabuenaga is a professional learning designer and facilitator for K–12 educators. As the former Director of Curriculum at PBLWorks, she led and supported the design and facilitation of workshops and services. Along with her partners at ACP, she has written 3 books: Connecting Together: Collaboration Strategies for Online and Physically Distanced Learning, SEL Connected: Accessible Strategies to Bridge Social and Emotional Learning to Everyday Content, and their latest, HQPBL Connected: An Educator's Guide to Creating Meaningful Project-based Student Experiences. You can find Gina on Twitter @OlaDoctorGina or at www.appliedcoaching.org.


*Editor’s Note: Defined has adopted the HQPBL Framework to guide and inform our development and implementation work around performance tasks, Project-Based Learning, and Deeper Learning.



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