Project-Based Learning

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Updated: March, 2016

The Autodesk Foundation deserves credit for bringing Project-Based Learning (PBL) to the attention of educators across the country during the 1990s. Founded by Joe Oakey, former Commissioner of Education in Vermont and Micronesia and former manager of Autodesk, Inc.’s Education Department, the Foundation spread the word nationally about Project-Based Learning from 1992 until its close in 2000. The Foundation supported schools and practitioners through the Tinkertech network, and the Project-Based Learning Network, and through the annual Kids Who Know and Do conference.

While project-based learning rests on many antecedent practices, much of the practice in the 1990’s broke new ground by establishing real-world context, adult connections, student exhibitions and worldwide publication via the WWW, and authentic assessment.
I had the pleasure of leading the Foundation after Joe retired in 1996. Working with a great team that included Elizabeth Share, Judy Morgan, Sanna Randolph, Laurette Rogers, Ross Kleinberg, Eric Skjei, Dan Trimble, and Dana Erickson, our small band served as the network organizer for PBL in the 1990s. Fortunately others have now taken up the torch, including the George Lucas Educational Foundation and the Buck Institute of Education (BIE).

This page highlights PBL resources to help you in your efforts to create great learning opportunities for kids.

May 9, 2016: Mount Vernon Presbyterian School's (Atlanta, GA) Focus for Summer+ Learning 2016-17 - Project-Based Learning. See also The Mount Vernon Continuum infographic and The MVPS I.Design Lab.
March 19, 2016: PBL Videos. Includes the outstanding series from edutopia and the best videos from PBL schools on their teaching and learning pedagogy and processes.
January 29, 2016: New PBL website from OCM BOCES features PBL Resources, Tools, Rubrics, Research, Videos, and more
January 6, 2016: Learning Centers in the Secondary Classroom, by Ted Malefyt, edutopia.
December 2, 2015: How to Make Sure That Project-based Learning is Applied Well in Schools, By Thom Markham, MindShift/KQED News. See more re Thom Markham here.
November 19, 2015: Are We Getting Smarter about Ed Tech?, by Suzie Boss, edutopia blog shows role of pedagogy, particularly PBL, in leveraging technology for learning. Also see articles by Bob Pearlman on technology, PBL, and learning.
November 18, 2015: Updated Project Libraries Links includes Real Projects from the Innovation Unit (UK) and EL's Center for Student Work
October 6, 2015: Never Send a Human to do a Machine’s Job: Correcting the Top 5 Edtech Mistakes,” by Yong Zhao, Washington Post, October 6. 2015. Also see new book of same name here by Yong Zhao, Gaoming Zhang, Jing Lei and Wei Qiu.

Featured PBL Video -- July 2014:

Also see each of the Five Keys to Rigorous Project-Based Learning Videos at Edutopia (Real-World Connections, Rigorous Projects, Collaboration, Facilitating Learning, and Assessment). See other PBL videos here and at BIE.

I. Top PBL Links

II. PBL Miscellany

III. PBL Archival Pages

IV. Articles by Bob Pearlman on PBL,
21st Century Learning, and Technology

I. Top PBL Links

PBL Research

BIE Research Library and Research Archive -- The best current compilation of PBL research is provided on the Buck Institute of Education web site.

Project-Based Learning Research Review, By Vanessa Vega, Edutopia, December 3, 2012

Scaffolding and Achievement in Problem-Based and Inquiry Learning: A Response to Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006), by Cindy E. Hmelo-Silver, Ravit Golan Duncan, and Clark A. Chinn, Department of Educational Psychology, Rutgers University, EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGIST, 42(2), 99–107. This article is a response to Paul A. Kirschner , John Sweller & Richard E. Clark (2006) Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching, Educational Psychologist, 41:2, 75-86. Kirschner, Sweller & Clark reprised this critique in the AFT American Educator, Spring, 2012, Putting Students on the Path to Learning : The Case for Fully Guided Instruction.

Summers, E. J., & Dickinson, G. (2012). A longitudinal investigation of project based instruction and student achievement in high school social studies. The Interdisciplinary Journal of Problem-based Learning, 6(1), 82-103.

Dickinson, G., & Summers, E. J. (2010). (Re)Anchored video centered engagement: The transferability of preservice training to practice. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 10(1).

Mathematics for the Moment, Or the Millennium?, By Jo Boaler, March 31, 1999. Stanford Professors Jo Boaler’s math studies in England are an example of the new research on PBL.

Challenge 2000 Multimedia Project. The final evaluation of this award-winning project yielded a significant finding when PBL students were tested on authentic projects in comparison to a control group.

This review, commissioned by the Autodesk Foundation in its final year (2000), examines research related to a teaching and learning model popularly referred to as "Project-Based Learning" (PBL). All of the research on Project-Based Learning has taken place in the past ten years and most of it in just the last few years. Since there is not a large body of PBL research, the review is inclusive rather than selective.

The review covers eight topics:

  • A definition of Project-Based Learning,
  • Underpinnings of PBL research and practice,
  • Evaluative research: research on the effectiveness of PBL,
  • The role of student characteristics in PBL,
  • Implementation research: challenges associated with enacting PBL,
  • Intervention research: research on improving the effectiveness of PBL,
  • Conclusions, and
  • Future directions for PBL research.

Online Project Libraries

Updated November, 2015

Real Projects, Innovation Unit, UK

The Buck Institute of Education's Project Search is now the best source on the web for project exemplars. It includes projects from numerous PBL sources including ConnectEd, Envision Schools, Expeditionary Learning, High Tech High, West Virginia DOE, and others.

Paul Curtis' Infographics on PBL - see more at @paulscurtis on Twitter. Paul Curtis is the Director of Curriculum for the New Tech Network.

Click for larger image

Click for larger image


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II. PBL Miscellany

Best PBL Videos

This page includes the outstanding series from edutopia and the best videos from PBL schools on their teaching and learning pedagogy and processes.

Best Feature Film about PBL

October Sky

PBL Math

Math Matters provides Project-Based Learning (PBL) instruction, structure, and ongoing support for math teachers in southeastern Indiana. See also the Math Matters video.

Unsung Hero Student Project Discovery Award from the Lowell Milken Center

III. PBL Archival Pages

These are pages I created when I launched this website circa 2002. It captures the best PBL resources available on the Internet at that time and should be a valuable resource for PBL history buffs. Some of these links are now inactive, but you can resurrect these resources through the Internet Archive (the Wayback Machine). - Bob, June 2014

PBL Schools I Like

See PBL curriculum and student work at Schools I Like such as Sir Francis Drake High School, Brookside Elementary School, San Jose Middle School, Mendocino, the North Coast Rural Challenge Network, and Napa New Technology High School.

Schools you can visit to see PBL in action

Several schools host School-Based Institutes (SBIs), where visitors can learn about and see PBL in action. In the current year 2002, unfortunately, only Napa New Technology High School has scheduled an SBI.

Napa New Technology High School Tours and Institutes, “RIGOR and RELEVANCE At New Technology High School”

Project-Based Learning on the Net

  1. What is PBL? Definition from the Autodesk Foundation
  2. Project Sites -- National and International
  3. Teachers and Students as Project Organizers and Developers

Great Student Work

Eight years after the World Wide Web was born and thousands of great student projects created and exhibited, can anyone see this great student work, or see it in a coherent and organized fashion? Unfortunately too few schools and organizations have captured this work on the WWW and made it available to their own publics and to the wider national and international publics. The Great Student Work web page is my attempt to share with you some of the best student work that you can see on the web. With your help this can be continually updated.