Project Based Learning

What is PBL?

Project Based Learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects.

In Project Based Learning, teachers make learning come alive for students.

Students work on a project over an extended period of time – from a week up to a semester – that engages them in solving a real-world problem or answering a complex question. They demonstrate their knowledge and skills by creating a public product or presentation for a real audience.

As a result, students develop deep content knowledge as well as critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication skills. Project Based Learning unleashes a contagious, creative energy among students and teachers.

Visit the PBL website →

Watch Project Based Learning in Action

These 7-10 minute videos show the Gold Standard PBL model in action, capturing the nuts and bolts of a PBL unit from beginning to end.

This project features teacher Rayhan Ahmed at Leaders High School in Brooklyn, NY, with his 11th grade chemistry class.

This project features Kimberly Head-Trotter of McKissack Middle School, in Nashville, TN, with her 6th grade ELA/History class.

This project features teacher Cheryl Bautista of Katherine Smith Elementary School, San Jose, CA and her third graders.

How does PBL differ from “doing a project”?

PBL is becoming widely used in schools and other educational settings, with different varieties being practiced. However, there are key characteristics that differentiate “doing a project” from engaging in rigorous Project Based Learning. There are two kinds of school projects:

“Dessert project”

A short, intellectually-light project served up after the teacher covers the content of a unit.

“Main Course project”

A project that is the core of the unit. Curriculum and instruction are incorporated in the project.

In Project Based Learning, the project is the “main course,” the vehicle for teaching the important knowledge and skills student need to learn.

In contrast to dessert projects, PBL requires:

Critical thinking
Problem solving

To answer a driving question and create high-quality work, students need to do much more than remember information. They need to use higher-order thinking skills and learn to work as a team.

Through this process, they apply what they’re learning in meaningful ways. Instruction is incorporated into the project, which is designed to meet appropriate academic goals and standards. The project work creates a genuine need for students to learn grade-level content and skills, while working collaboratively, thinking critically and engaging in reflection and revision.

By making a “main course” out of Project Based Learning, students become deeply engaged in their work. They understand how what they learn in school applies to the real world. They develop the skills that will set them up for success in college, career, and life.

Learn more about “dessert” projects vs PBL

The Gold Standard for High-Quality PBL

To help ensure your students are getting the main course and are engaging in quality Project Based Learning, PBLWorks promotes a research-informed model for “Gold Standard PBL.” The Gold Standard PBL model encompasses two useful guides for educators:

Provide a framework for developing high quality projects for your classroom.

Help teachers, schools, and organizations improve, calibrate, and assess their practice.

Learn more at

The Gold Standard PBL model aligns with the High Quality PBL Framework. This framework describes what students should be doing, learning, and experiencing in a good project.