Starting a PBL

Starting a Project

Like any project or unit, you want to start with your objectives. In the case of PBL, the more complex and multifaceted the objectives and content, the better suited it is for PBL. Here are a few prompts for coming up with a conceptual framework for a PBL:

  • What is most important?
    • Good PBLs get to the heart of a discipline and higher order thinking skills. A PBL is highly contextual and connects content directly with students’ frames of reference, interests, and experiences.
  • What’s the big idea?
    • If you prefer starting from standards, examine your desired standards and ask yourself: “what do these add up to?” Who cares about this? Who does it touch or affect? Asking these questions can also reveal interdisciplinary connections and connect curriculum to a real world context.
    • Most of the time, a PBL will venture outside your subject area. Just like in real life, project learning crosses disciplines. This is a great opportunity to collaborate with teachers in other subject areas or with outside experts and resources.
  • Plan for 21st Century Skills
    • A well-designed PBL leads students to develop higher order thinking skills. In terms of a depth of knowledge, objectives such as analyze, evaluate, and create are particularly relevant to PBL and will help you transform a traditional project.
    • A good PBL will not only use technology for a product but will also use technology to redefine the learning process. Digital literacy and citizenship skills should be embedded in every step of the process. Resources like ISTE-S Standards and the Massachusetts Digital Literacy and Computer Science Standards can help you integrate these skills in the context of your PBL.
  • Keep your students in mind
    • A key component of any PBL is student voice. How will you integrate choice and voice into this unit? When you tap into students’ enthusiasm, you increase the likelihood of deeper and sustained inquiry and coming away with essential understanding.

Once you have established the conceptual framework of your PBL, its time to start integrating the essential elements into your unit.

The Buck Institute of Education has a great project planner that can help you organize your ideas into a useful template. (Note: you will need a free account to access these resources).


Boss, Suzie and Jane Krauss. Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age. Eugene, Oregon: International Society for Technology in Education, 2014.