Building PBL (Project-Based Learning)


Project-based learning (PBL) has received a lot of attention recently. It replaces traditional lectures with student-driven collaboration to solve a real-world problem and share that solution with an audience. Motivated to defend their own views, students draw on lessons from several disciplines. Many times, students surprise teachers with research materials and product ideas.

The process

The Inquiry-Based Disciplinary Literacy (IDL) Model provides unique student-driven opportunities to solve authentic problems in a collaborative environment and incorporates the Buck Institute for Education Essential PBL elements.

These are the five phases of the IDL model:

  • Ask a compelling question.
  • Gather and analyze sources.
  • Creatively synthesize claims and evidence.
  • Critically evaluate and revise.
  • Share, publish, and act.



An example for middle or high school science

To begin, provide an online environment for sharing ideas and posting final products. Wiki Spaces is one of my favorites, but many great tools exist.

Many teachers introduce projects by writing the driving question. Others, set parameters and then let students decide for themselves. In this example, we’ll focus on changes in the atmosphere and climate. Many states have standards on this topic; it’s also part of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

To introduce the project, start with a call to action such as:

We will learn about the impacts of human activities on the environment. We'll also learn about the gases that cause air pollution, how they cycle through the atmosphere, and their effects on ecosystems. You will work in teams to create a compelling question about the atmosphere and answer it through a project-based inquiry process. Select a topic using standards.

Be sure your question includes one or more of these topics:

  1. Compare the composition and structure of Earth’s atmosphere, including differences in gases, temperature, and pressure. Explain how the cycling of matter and greenhouse gases impacts atmospheric conditions and weather patterns.
  2. Design new technologies or methods for monitoring the atmosphere, maintaining air quality, and minimizing the human impact on the environment and biodiversity. Explain how the cycling of matter has affected life on Earth.
  3. Provide evidence of global warming and compare natural and human activities that influence air quality and the impact of those changes. Propose sustainable solutions to reduce pollution.

Ask a compelling question

Teaching a group of students to write compelling questions can be the most challenging part of the process. This checklist offers some guidance. Remind groups that they need your approval before moving to the next step.

Gather and analyze sources

Students gather background information to support their answers. They must decide about the credibility and relevance of information. Field trips to universities and farms offer real-world background information. It’s also a fun way to gather artifacts or take pictures for their final products. To better guide students and save time, you may want to provide trusted resources for students to explore.

Creatively synthesize claims and evidence

Students are now ready to clarify and interpret their findings and answer the compelling question in an original way. They demonstrate complex thinking by drawing inferences, summarizing, and making new connections. Final products could be videos, magazines, brochures, infographics, annotated maps, an essay or RAFT, a journal, or another form that achieves the objective.

Critically evaluate, revise, share 

After completing the first draft, students begin revising—working alone, with each other and with experts (e.g., professionals in the community).Rubrics are helpful; include categories such as purpose, synthesis, construction, curriculum connections, thesis, conclusion, and sources. Integration of technology, originality, and creativity are also important.

Have students publish and share their final products. Doing so, the Buck Institute for Education explains, increases quality. Engage students in face-to-face presentations; encourage online posting with a larger community. Here are a few tools for online classroom collaboration: Wikispaces, Google for Education, Buncee, and TES with blendspace. Invite feedback from teachers, classmates, parents, and professionals. Encourage students to share their learning beyond the classroom.

Interested in Learning More?

To explore using the Global Goals to drive your PBL, see Getting Started with the Global Goals for Free!

Check out these other articles on Project-Based Learning experiences and the Global Goals:



About Author

Ada Lopez

Ada’s goal is to help improve children’s lives. Her inspiration to develop technologies that enhance teaching and learning comes from her years in the classroom. Ada taught high school biology in South Florida and middle school science in North Carolina. She earned The National Braille Press Hands on Award for co-authoring Reach for the Stars: Touch, Look, Listen, Learn.

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