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How PBL Starter Kit Aligns with

BIEs New Model for Gold Standard

Project Based Learning
October 2015

In 2015, the Buck Institute for Education document. These are also posted on the
developed a new model for high-quality Project website for downloading:
Based Learning that we call Gold Standard PBL. Essential Project Design Elements
Although published before the Gold Standards
release, PBL Starter Kit is far from outdated. Project Based Teaching Practices
The basic concepts and processes for designing, Why We Changed the 8 Essential Elements
assessing, and managing projects described in
the book are still the same in the Gold Standard
PBL model. However, some terminology has
Essential Project Design Elements
changed. This guide is intended to help readers The following table shows some key terms used
understand the parallels between the terms in our older model that appear in the book
used in the book and the new model. explained in the Why We Changed the 8 Essential
Elements article and how you can translate
To learn more about the Gold Standard PBL them into Gold Standard PBL terminology when
model, see the three articles included in this reading the book.

Older Model of PBL Gold Standard PBL Terminology Where It Is Discussed in

Terminology PBL Starter Kit
Essential Elements Essential Project Design Elements Page 4:
of PBL Essential Elements of PBL
Page 30:
Developing an Idea for the Project
Significant Content Key Knowledge & Understanding Page 31:
Places to Start the Wheels Turning
Pages 35-36:
Specifying Goals for Learning
21st Century Skills Success Skills Page 37:
21st Century Skills: More Than Text
Messaging While Driving
Page 48:
Assessing 21st Century Skills
Driving Question Challenging Problem or Question Pages 31-33:
Places to Start the Wheels Turning
Pages 40-42:
Writing a Driving Question

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In-Depth Inquiry Sustained Inquiry Pages 50-53:
An Engaging Project Launch
Pages 81-86:
Creating a Culture of Inquiry and
Independence and Beginning the
Inquiry Process after the Entry Event
Discussed but Authenticity Page 31-34:
not named as an Places to Start the Wheels Turning
Essential Element Pages 33-36:
Selecting Culminating Products
Voice & Choice Student Voice & Choice This concept is reflected in many
sections of the book.
Critique & Revision Critique & Revision Pages 59-60:
Formative Assessment
Discussed but not Reflection Pages 101-112:
named as an Essential Chapter VI: Reflect and Perfect
Public Audience Public Product Pages 54-56:
Presentations to an Audience
Pages 92-97:
Facilitating Presentations to an

Project Based Teaching Practices

Another component of our model for Gold the same as those used in traditional instruction,
Standard PBL is Project Based Teaching Practices. and some are different in a PBL environment.
These practices describe what a teacher does The following table shows how each practice is
in the classroom to make PBL successful. As we featured in the book.
explained in the article below, some practices are

Project Based Teaching Where It Is Discussed in PBL Starter Kit

Design & Plan The whole book is about designing and planning projects.
Align to Standards Page 31:
Places to Start the Wheels Turning
Pages 35-36:
Specifying Goals for Learning
Build the Culture Ideas about building a PBL culture are discussed at several points in the
book, and especially on:
Pages 67-72
If and How to Prepare Students for PBL
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Build the Culture Pages 81-82:
continued Building a Culture of Inquiry and Independence
Pages 86-89:
Managing Group Collaboration
Manage Activities Pages 63-66:
A Project Calendar
Pages 67-72
If and How to Prepare Students for PBL
Pages 73-74:
How Students Will be Grouped
Pages 79-100:
Chapter V: Managing Your Project
Scaffold Student Scaffolding is discussed at several points in the book, and especially on:
Learning Pages 56-58:
Daily Teaching and Learning Tasks
Page 66:
Handouts and Other Materials
Pages 68-72:
Building Skills Before and During a Project
Assess Student Ideas about assessment are discussed at several points in the book, and
Learning especially on:
Pages 46-49:
Summative Assessment: Culminating Products
Pages 59-60:
Formative Assessment
Pages 60-62:
Pages 94-95:
Hat #2: Keen-Eyed, Sharp-Eared Assessor
Engage & Coach Ideas about engaging and coaching students are discussed at several points
in the book, and especially on:
Page 7:
The Role of the Teacher in PBL
Page 91:
Coaching the Inquiry Process
Pages 97-100:
Troubleshooting Common Problems
Pages 102-103:
Celebrating Success
Pages 104-105:
Facilitating Student Reflection About Learning

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Gold Standard PBL:
Essential Project Design Elements
Buck Institute for Education 2015

Its nice that Project Based Learning is becoming To help teachers do PBL well, we created a
popular, but popularity can bring problems. comprehensive, research-based model for PBL
Here at the Buck Institute for Education, were a gold standard to help teachers, schools, and
concerned that the recent upsurge of interest in organizations to measure, calibrate, and improve
PBL will lead to wide variation in the quality of their practice. This term is used in many industries
project design and classroom implementation. and fields to indicate the highest quality process
or product. Our conception of Gold Standard PBL
If done well, PBL yields great results. But if PBL
has three parts: 1) Student Learning Goals (in the
is not done well, two problems are likely to arise.
center of the diagram below) 2) Essential Project
First, we will see a lot of assignments and activities
Design Elements (shown in the red sections of the
that are labeled as projects but which are not
diagram), and 3) Project Based Teaching Practices
rigorous PBL, and student learning will suffer.
(which we explain elsewhere).
Or, we will see projects backfire on underprepared

Student Learning Goals

Student learning of academic content and skill
development are at the center of any well-designed
project. Like the lens of a camera, our diagram
puts the focus of PBL on preparing students for
successful school and life experiences.

Key Knowledge and Understanding

Gold Standard PBL teaches students the
important content standards, concepts, and in-
depth understandings that are fundamental to
school subject areas and academic disciplines.
In good projects, students learn how to apply
knowledge to the real world, and use it to solve
problems, answer complex questions, and create
high-quality products.

Key Success Skills

teachers and result in wasted time, frustration, Content knowledge and conceptual under-
and failure to understand the possibilities of standing, by themselves, are not enough in
PBL. Then PBL runs the risk of becoming another todays world. In school and college, in the
one of yesterdays educational fads vaguely modern workplace, as citizens and in their lives
remembered and rarely practiced. generally, people need to be able to think critically

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and solve problems, work well with others, and have a real need to know something, so they can
manage themselves effectively. We call these use this knowledge to solve a problem or answer
kinds of competencies success skills. They are a question that matters to them. The problem
also known as 21st Century Skills or College or question should challenge students without
and Career Readiness Skills. being intimidating. When teachers design and
conduct a project, we suggest they (sometimes
Its important to note that success skills can only with students) write the central problem or
be taught through the acquisition of content question in the form of an open-ended, student-
knowledge and understanding. For example, friendly driving question that focuses their task,
students dont learn critical thinking skills in the like a thesis focuses an essay (e.g., How can we
abstract, isolated from subject matter; they gain improve our schools recycling system, so we can
them by thinking critically about math, science, reduce waste? or Should the U.S. have fought the
history, English, career/tech subjects, and so on. Vietnam War?).
We recommend all projects include a focus on
these success skills: critical thinking/problem Students are learning because
solving, collaboration, and self-management.
Projects may also help build other skills, habits they have a real need to know
of mind and work, and personal qualities (such something, so they can use
as perseverance or creativity), based on what this knowledge to solve a
teachers, schools, parents and communities value,
but we believe the fundamental ability to think problem or answer a question
critically, solve problems, work with others and that matters to them.
manage oneself and ones own work are crucial
stepping stones to future success.
Sustained Inquiry
Essential Project Design Elements To inquire is to seek information or to investigate
So what goes into a successful project? Based on its a more active, in-depth process than just
an extensive literature review and the distilled looking something up in a book or online. The
experience of the many educators we have worked inquiry process takes time, which means a Gold
with over the past fifteen years, we believe the Standard project lasts more than a few days. In
following Essential Project Design Elements PBL, inquiry is iterative; when confronted with
outline what is necessary for a successful project a challenging problem or question, students ask
that maximizes student learning and engagement. questions, find resources to help answer them,
then ask deeper questions and the process
Challenging Problem or Question repeats until a satisfactory solution or answer
The heart of a project what it is about, if one is developed. Projects can incorporate different
were to sum it up is a problem to investigate information sources, mixing the traditional idea
and solve, or a question to explore and answer. It of research reading a book or searching a
could be concrete (the school needs to do a better website with more real-world, field-based
job of recycling waste) or abstract (deciding if interviews with experts, service providers and
and when war is justified). An engaging problem users. Students also might inquire into the needs
or question makes learning more meaningful for of the users of a product theyre creating in a
students. They are not just gaining knowledge project, or the audience for a piece of writing or
to remember it; they are learning because they multimedia.

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Authenticity Student Voice & Choice
When people say something is authentic, they Having a say in a project creates a sense of
generally mean it is real or genuine, not fake. In ownership in students; they care more about the
education, the concept has to do with how real- project and work harder. If students arent able to
world the learning or the task is. Authenticity use their judgment when solving a problem and
increases student motivation and learning. A answering a driving question, the project just
project can be authentic in several ways, often feels like doing an exercise or following a set of
in combination. It can have an authentic context, directions. Students can have input and (some)
such as when students solve problems like those control over many aspects of a project, from the
faced by people in the world outside of school questions they generate, to the resources they will
(e.g., entrepreneurs developing a business plan, use to find answers to their questions, to the tasks
engineers designing a bridge, or advisors to the and roles they will take on as team members, to
President recommending policy). It can involve the products they will create. More advanced
the use of real-world processes, tasks and tools, students may go even further and select the topic
and quality standards, such as when students and nature of the project itself; they can write
plan an experimental investigation or use digital their own driving question and decide how they
editing software to produce videos approaching want to investigate it, demonstrate what they
professional quality. It can have a real impact on have learned, and make their work public.
others, such as when students address a need
in their school or community (e.g., designing Reflection
and building a school garden, improving a John Dewey, whose ideas continue to inform
community park, helping local immigrants) or our thinking about PBL, wrote, We do not learn
create something that will be used or experienced from experience. We learn from reflecting on
by others. Finally, a project can have personal experience. Throughout a project, students
authenticity when it speaks to students own and the teacher should reflect on what theyre
concerns, interests, cultures, identities, and issues learning, how theyre learning, and why theyre
in their lives. learning. Reflection can occur informally, as part
of classroom culture and dialogue, but should also
be an explicit part of project journals, scheduled
Reflection on the formative assessment, discussions at project
checkpoints, and public presentations of student
content knowledge and work. Reflection on the content knowledge and
understanding gained helps understanding gained helps students solidify
students solidify what they what they have learned and think about how
it might apply elsewhere, beyond the project.
have learned and think about Reflection on success skill development helps
how it might apply elsewhere, students internalize what the skills mean and set
beyond the project. goals for further growth. Reflection on the project
itself how it was designed and implemented
helps students decide how they might approach
their next project, and helps teachers improve the
quality of their PBL practice.

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Critique & Revision
High quality student work is a hallmark of Gold
Standard PBL, and such quality is attained through When students have to
thoughtful critique and revision. Students should present or display their work
be taught how to give and receive constructive to an audience beyond the
peer feedback that will improve project processes
and products, guided by rubrics, models, and classroom, the performance
formal feedback/critique protocols. In addition to bar raises, since no one wants
peers and teachers, outside adults and experts can to look bad in public.
also contribute to the critique process, bringing an
authentic, real-world point of view. This common-
sense acknowledgement of the importance of
Second, by creating a product, students make
making student work and student products better
what they have learned tangible and thus, when
is supported by research on the importance of
shared publicly, discussible. Instead of only
formative evaluation, which not only means
being a private exchange between an individual
teachers giving feedback to students, but students
student and teacher, the social dimension of
evaluating the results of their learning.
learning becomes more important. This has an
impact on classroom and school culture, helping
Public Product
create a learning community, where students
There are three major reasons for creating a public
and teachers discuss what is being learned, how
product in Gold Standard PBL and note that a
it is learned, what are acceptable standards of
product can be a tangible thing, or it can be a
performance, and how student performance can
presentation of a solution to a problem or answer
be made better.
to a driving question. First, like authenticity, a
public product adds greatly to PBLs motivating Finally, making student work public is an effective
power and encourages high-quality work. Think way to communicate with parents, community
of what often happens when students make members, and the wider world about what
presentations to their classmates and teacher. The PBL is and what it does for students. When a
stakes are not high, so they may slack off, not take classroom, school, or district opens itself up to
it seriously, and not care as much about the quality public scrutiny, the message is, Heres what our
of their work. But when students have to present students can do were about more than test
or display their work to an audience beyond the scores. Many PBL schools and districts reinforce
classroom, the performance bar raises, since no this message by repurposing the traditional open
one wants to look bad in public. A certain degree of house into an exhibition of project work, which
anxiety can be a healthy motivator. But too much helps build understanding and support for PBL
anxiety can of course detract from performance among stakeholders. When the public sees what
the trick is to find the sweet spot, not the sweat high-quality products students can create, theyre
spot so its important that students are well often surprised, and eager to see more.
prepared to make their work public.

Adapted from Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning: A Proven Approach to Rigorous Classroom
Instruction, by John Larmer, John Mergendoller, Suzie Boss (ASCD 2015).

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Gold Standard PBL:
Project Based Teaching Practices
Buck Institute for Education 2015

Teachers who make Project Based Learning a regular Design & Plan
part of their teaching enjoy their new role, although Teachers create or adapt a project for their context
for some it might take time to adjust from traditional and students, and plan its implementation from
practice. Its fun to get creative when designing launch to culmination while allowing for some
a project, instead of just using off the shelf degree of student voice and choice.
curriculum materials. Most teachers like working
Align to Standards
collaboratively with their colleagues when planning
Teachers use standards to plan the project and
and implementing projects, and interacting with
make sure it addresses key knowledge and
other adults from the community or the wider world.
understanding from subject areas to be included.
And PBL teachers find it rewarding to work closely
alongside students, tackling a real-world challenge or Build the Culture
exploring a meaningful question. Teachers explicitly and implicitly promote student
independence and growth, open-ended inquiry,
team spirit, and attention to quality.
Manage Activities
Teachers work with students to organize tasks
and schedules, set checkpoints and deadlines, find
and use resources, create products and make them
Scaffold Student Learning
Teachers employ a variety of lessons, tools, and
instructional strategies to support all students in
reaching project goals.

Assess Student Learning

Teachers use formative and summative
assessments of knowledge, understanding, and
success skills, and include self and peer assessment
of team and individual work.

When transitioning to PBL, one of the biggest Engage & Coach

hurdles for many teachers is the need to give up some Teachers engage in learning and creating
degree of control over the classroom, and trust in alongside students, and identify when they need
their students. But even though they are more often skill-building, redirection, encouragement, and
the guide on the side than the sage on the stage, celebration.
this most certainly does not mean that teachers dont
Adapted from Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning:
teach in a PBL classroom. Many traditional practices A Proven Approach to Rigorous Classroom Instruction, by John
remain, but are reframed in the context of a project. Larmer, John Mergendoller, Suzie Boss (ASCD 2015).

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Why We Changed Our Model of the
8 Essential Elements of PBL
John Larmer and John Mergendoller
Buck Institute for Education, May 2015

Back in the daySeptember 2010 to be exact, but it activities. Poorly designed and implemented projects
feels like long agothe Buck Institute for Education could frustrate students, disappoint teachers, and
(BIE) published an article entitled 7 Essentials damage PBLs reputation. PBL could become another
for Project-Based Learning in ASCDs Educational fad on the trash heap of failed efforts to transform
Leadership magazine. Soon thereafter we added an education. We believe a Gold Standard PBL model will
eighth element, Significant Content, to counter help ensure this does not happen, and we look forward
stereotypes that PBL was not an effective method for to seeing high-quality projects in all classrooms, in all
teaching standards-based knowledge, understanding, settings, for all students.
and skillsand to remind teachers to design projects
with a clear focus on content standards. These 8 What we call the new model
In our new conception for Gold Standard PBL, we
OLD MODEL for PBL: have created two separate but related components
of the model: Essential Project Design Elements,
and Project Based Teaching Practices. We call them
the Essential Project Design Elements because thats
precisely what they arenot the elements of PBL
the instructional methodology, which is a much
broader topic than the design of a project itself. The
Project Based Teaching Practices expand on what it
means to implement PBL well, beyond designing the
project. You can read more about our new model in
another post, but as you can see in the diagram below,
while some of the familiar 8 Essential Elements
Essential Elements of PBL became the framework for remain, others are gone. Lets explain where they
our publications and PBL 101 workshop, which has went and why.
now been experienced by over 50,000 teachers. That
Whats gone and what replaces it
article, and the hexagonal graphic above, has been
widely circulated and cited over the past few years. n From Significant Content to Key Knowledge and
Understanding. To describe the student learning
In 2014, however, we decided a revision was needed, goals that are the central focus of a project, we
and developed a more comprehensive, research- think the word key still captures the idea that
based model that we call Gold Standard PBL. what students learn should be significant, in terms
With PBLs growing popularity, we worried that if of state or local standards and whats important to
too many teachers and schools jumped on the PBL students, teachers, schools and districts. The term
bandwagon without clear guidance and adequate knowledge and understanding means the same
preparation, problems will crop up. A lot of practices thing as content but says it in more everyday
and curriculum materials labeled as PBL will not be language, since we want to use as little edu-jargon
rigorous or even truly PBL, and yield disappointing as possible for a broad audience.
results. Some projects will really be only hands-on
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n From 21st Century Competencies to Success Skills. other settings, teachers may prefer to organize
Our older model separated this element from projects around an essential question or design
contentalbeit with a dotted line, to indicate a challenge. Although we welcome multiple ways
connectionbut we now combine the two into to describe what a project is about, we continue
one set of student learning goals. Recent standards to suggest in our PBL workshops and project
now explicitly include such competencies as design materials that teachers operationalize
critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, the challenging problem or question by putting
and making presentations; they are to be taught it in the form of a student-friendly, open-ended
together with content, since students need to, say, driving question to focus the project.
think critically about something, such as history,
n From In-Depth Inquiry to Sustained Inquiry.
science, math, literature and other text, and so on.
Inquiry is pretty much, by definition, not a
Furthermore, we think the term success skills
superficial process. So instead of depth, we decided
is more readily understood by all audiences, and
to emphasize the point that in PBL, inquiry
has less baggage, than our older language or other
should take place over an extended period of time.
terms such as college and career readiness skills.
Students could, during a not-at-gold-standard
n From Driving Question to Challenging Problem or project, investigate a topic in depth but only on
Question. Our new model defines the fundamental one occasion. But by extending inquiry over several
element of a projectwhat it is about more occasions, students have enough time to engage
broadly as a challenging problem or question. in an iterative process that involves questioning,
This may be expressed as a problem statement finding and evaluating sources of information,
in classrooms and schools where problem posing new questions, and applying what has been
based learning is the preferred style of PBL. In learned to the solution of a problem or creation of
a product.
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n From Public Audience to Public Product. Its hugely of student-generated questions (which is initiated
importantboth for motivational reasons and by an entry event that launches a project) as part
to make learning visible and discussiblethat of the sustained inquiry process. The list of
students make their work public in a project. It student questions could still be given the heading
adds to a projects authenticity. But we dont want What do we need to know? or it could be called
to suggest that students always have to make a something else, such as a KWL (Know, Want to
formal presentation to an audience. There are Learn, Learned) chart.
others ways to make work public; students can put
it online, display it on a wall, or provide a product Two new elementsand where to
or service that is actually used by people in the real learn more
world. Hello Authenticity and Reflection. BIEs Essential
Project Design Elements contain two new items, both
n Goodbye Need to Know. The fact that an engaging of which are familiar to those who know PBL. One is
project creates a genuine need to know in a authenticity, which has to do with how real-world
learner is one of the most powerful arguments the project is. The other is reflection, which we have
for PBL. As opposed to learning for the sake of a previously coupled with revision but now stands
test, grade, or approval from teachers and parents, on its own; students should reflect on what theyre
students in PBL are motivated to learn because learning, how theyre learning, and what they have
they want to successfully complete the project. accomplished in a project.
However, we think this term belongs in a Why
PBL? argument, not as a thing teachers design in To learn more about our model for Gold Standard PBL,
a project they way they would, say, an authentic the research behind it, and how to implement PBL
product or opportunities for student voice and across a school or district, see our new book, Setting
choice. This concept also was easily confused with the Standard for Project Based Learning, published by
the need to know list used as a tool in a project. ASCD and available at
Instead, our Gold Standard PBL model places a list

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