What is PBL?

  • Wordle

    Project-based learning (PBL) emphasizes learning activities that are long-term, interdisciplinary, and student-centered. Unlike traditional, teacher-led classroom activities, students often must organize their own work and manage their own time in a project-based class.  The cycle starts with a driving question that students spend the remainder of the project answering by researching, discussing, workshopping, and finally presenting to real people.  It’s not about just turning in an assignment, but rather about showing what students can do.

    There are seven critical components to the PBL educational model:

    Driving Question - The heart of the PBL model, the driving question gives students a direction for their learning.  They are not just learning about genetics or economics, but instead must learn at the different elements of a subject and examine their relationships.


    • What impact do genetically modified organisms have on our society?
    • How did WWII shape our contemporary global political alignment?
    • How do we use electricity and magnetism to build a powered circuit that performs a useful function?      

    Know/Need to Know - Every project is different, depending on the cohort and course that is working on it.  To accommodate prior knowledge, each project creates a Need to Know list.  This list guides the instruction for the project by laying out all the skills that students already know and what they need to know in order to answer the driving question.  This list is refined throughout the project and as skills are learned and mastered.

    Inquiry and Innovation - Project-Based Learning requires that students be inquisitive about the world around them.  Using an active style of learning, PBL students do not wait for teachers to give them the knowledge they need, but are guided by the teachers to research the information and learn the skills they need to complete a project as defined by the Need to Know list.  Students are encouraged to use novel ways to connect information and put it together in a way that demonstrates their mastery of skills and understanding of the driving question.

    PBL Components 21st Century Skills - PBL does not only work with students and their academic knowledge in a discipline.  In the 21st Century, the workforce demands more from the high school graduate than ever before. To match our knowledge with our skills, NTZB measures student learning in the following areas:

    • Knowledge and Thinking:  Students will show their knowledge on content specific topics that are aligned with Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards and will thoughtfully negotiate information to interpret, analyze, and evaluate evidence, statements, graphics, and questions in order to construct well-supported, clearly articulated, and sustained arguments.
    • Written Communication:  Students will use writing processes to clearly communicate thoughts and information related to a variety of topics within to their course content. 
    • Oral Communication:  Students will speak publicly, in both formal and informal contexts, about a variety of topics related to the content of their course. 
    • Collaboration:  Students will work effectively and efficiently as a team in order to complete tasks and reach goals and objectives. 
    • Professionalism:  Students will demonstrate a professional demeanor by turning in work on time and complete, by attending class on time, and by treating all stakeholders respectfully.
    • Technological Literacy:  Students will integrate computer skills, technical knowledge, and higher-level thinking to create and express ideas and negotiate information.
    • Agency: Students will work towards a growth mindset and the ability to take ownership of their learning and their education.

    Student Voice & Choice - Student voice is a significant component of the PBL model.  Students need to be able to have a say in how the projects are prepared and how their knowledge and skills are showcased.  The teacher cannot always dictate the best way for students to learn; students must dialogue with the instructor as to the best ways to showcase their learning.

    Feedback & Revision - Feedback is crucial to any project.  In a PBL model, the feedback is not always one way, from teacher to student.  Often the feedback is student to student, and is much more valuable.  Students get to look at the feedback from many different parties and then refine and perfect their projects.  In this way, students learn that change is part of the learning process, and even at the last minute, details may change to reflect the best way to showcase learning and expertise.

    Publicly Presented Project - Presentation is not only a 21st Century skill, but the key to all PBL projects.  Whether it's publishing, broadcasting, podcasting, modeling, or stand-up presenting, students learn that in order to truly show understanding of their skills, they must be able to explain it to others in a coherent way.  If others cannot understand what you mean, then there's no evidence you truly understand the concepts. All PBL students become proficient in public presentations, because they will do it all the time.

    For further information about Project-Based Learning, check out the following resources on the web: