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Ideas & Resources To Help You Kick-Start Project Based Learning

Updated on August 10, 2017
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Heidi Reina, M.S., Ed, is an educational technology integrator and former teacher, reviewing free educational websites and apps.


Project Based Learning at Your Fingertips

Come this way to free resources, ideas, and lesson plans for project based learning at all grade levels. My experience with PBL has been that kids love the projects and are fully engaged. But I wish I'd had more guidance available starting out, so that my first projects would have run a bit more smoothly. So I've gleaned a large collection of lesson plans from other teachers and PBL websites, along with tips for getting started.

There's 30 years of evidence now that effective PBL retains students' focus, prompts them in engage higher order thinking skills, and encourages them to work with other to accomplish a goal. The benefits of PBL are the focus of a lot of discussion among classroom teachers and administration. But parents, families, and even some educators are asking what is PBL and how does it work?

Student Computer Programming Project
Student Computer Programming Project | Source

What is Project Based Learning?

Simply put, PBL is learning in which the student produces something useful to himself and others. You child's science fair project is a familiar example of project-based learning (PBL). In the process of creating the "product", your child learns the scientific method, how to conduct experiments, gather and analyze data (applying math skills), write a report and present his work (language arts skills).

PBL adds teamwork to this mix. Unlike traditional classroom lessons, which often emphasize rote memorization, PBL emphasizes innovation and creativity, critical thinking skills, cooperation, collaboration and communication.

Project Based Learning in a Nutshell

Why should I use PBL?

It's the way the real world works. When you think about it, your work life and your home life largely consist of a series of projects. In the process of repairing or renovating your home, setting up a retirement fund, or starting a small business, you practice a broad range of skills and learn all kinds of new facts and skills that are likely to stay with you for the rest of your life. Read the perspectives of PBL experts interviewed by Edutopia.

And there is a good deal of research demonstrating that PBL is more effective than the traditional lesson plan model. Japan thought this approach was so superior that during the past eight years, they adjusted the daily class schedule of schools nationwide to accommodate large segments of project-based learning. Finland, Sweden and Denmark, whose students score among the highest on international math and science tests, cite PBL as a key reason for their success.

But the PBL teaching and learning approach is slow to take off in our K-12 schools. It takes more time to plan. It takes extensive collaboration with other teachers. And it's challenging to incorporate state standards and standardized testing deadlines in PBL projects.

Here's Why...

Alan November, a teacher and pioneer in educational technology, makes a powerful case for project-based learning and the critical role it plays student motivation. Authentic projects help students add value to the world and leave a lasting legacy.

Buck Institute for Education


Resources for Getting Started

Online resources to help teachers and school administrators kick-start this effort

Buck Institute for Education - In many ways, this is the premier site for guidance and plans to get you started in PBL. (The video on this page was produced by BIE.) Their FreeBIEs include a project assessment map, rubrics, sample letter to parents, guidance on how to create an effective project plan, checklist and project management log. They have a large searchable database of projects you can access by source, subject and grade level. And they have a forum for sharing project ideas and getting assistance from educators experienced in PBL. Access to these resources requires free registration.

West Virginia Dept. of Education PBL This site has a searchable database of PBL lesson plans for K-12. Equally helpful are their PBL Tools. These include rubrics, learning logs and journals, presentation tools, assessment tools, task management and student contracts, a PBL project planning template, and rubrics.

Edutopia is a great launching point for project-based learning. Their website has videos, examples of lessons and a forum of educators who are working to put PBL into practice in public school classrooms.

New Tech Network is a non-profit organization working to help schools across the country incorporate their project-based curricula that emphasize 21st century skills. For the rest of us, they have excellent Project Idea Rubrics to guide development of a project plan.

LearningReviews PBL Websites - I've compiled a directory of 18 free websites for teachers with project-based learning lesson plans, templates, rubrics, professional development and advice.

Excellent Guide for Middle and High School Teachers

Project Based Learning (PBL) Starter Kit: To-the-Point Advice, Tools and Tips for Your First Project in Middle or High School
Project Based Learning (PBL) Starter Kit: To-the-Point Advice, Tools and Tips for Your First Project in Middle or High School

This guide for teachers is authored by experts from the Buck Institute for Education (BIE), the leading non profit organization the in the PBL community. It provides you the essential guidance you need to implement project based learning in your classroom.

Their advice is practical, step-by-step, and includes projects and planning tools. My projects went much more smoothly once I implemented their advice.


Elementary Teacher Guide to PBL

PBL in the Elementary Grades: Step-by-Step Guidance, Tools and Tips for Standards-Focused K-5 Projects
PBL in the Elementary Grades: Step-by-Step Guidance, Tools and Tips for Standards-Focused K-5 Projects

Another excellent guide from BIE authors, this book provides practical, step-by-step advice for K-6 teachers implementing PBL in the classroom. As with the PBL Start Kit, you find sample plans and tips for ensuring your first projects get off the ground smoothly.


Project Based vs. Problem Based Learning

What is the difference?

Definitions of these terms by educators vary greatly and they are often used interchangeably.

My take -

  • Problem based learning focuses on resolution of a specific problem, often with many possible solutions. Problem based learning can be considered a type of project based learning. Projects that require skills in math or science are frequently problem-based endeavors. An example would be tracking down the cause for the latest flu epidemic in the school, and finding ways to prevent one in the future.
  • Project based learning focuses on a set of driving open-ended questions, from which students select a focus for the project, with many possible end products. An example would be learning the history of your community by research or by collecting stories of a cross-section of residents, then presenting your findings to the historical society through video, recordings, a booklet or presentation.

For other views on project-based vs. problem-based learning, check out

Education World


Edutech wiki

What's your experience with PBL?

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Take a PBL Poll

What's your experience with PBL?

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    • aminebombom profile image

      Amine 3 years ago from Doha, Qatar

      EmmaGrace led me here, well PBL looks good too bad my teachers back on the days didn't do it for us, any way as i grew old i learn from you, thank you for the informative lens.

      take care

    • EmmaGraceEllis LM profile image

      EmmaGraceEllis LM 3 years ago

      My 4 girls in primary school have developed so beautifully with the amazing benefits of PBL

      Thanks for sharing such an informative lens!