The Ultimate Guide to Rigorous PBL by Design: Learn the Three Shifts that Will Transform Your Students' Learning
Rigorous PBL by Design: Three Shifts for Developing Confident and Competent Learners
Project-based learning (PBL) is a pedagogical approach that engages students in authentic, meaningful, and collaborative learning experiences. PBL has been shown to improve academic outcomes, motivation, creativity, and 21st century skills. However, not all PBL projects are created equal. Some may lack rigor, relevance, or alignment with standards and objectives. How can educators design and implement high-quality PBL projects that challenge students to think deeply, inquire critically, and learn actively? In this article, we will explore three shifts that can transform PBL from a superficial activity to a rigorous learning experience.
Rigorous PBL by Design: Three Shifts for Developing Confident and Competent Learners download epub 1
What is PBL and why is it important?
PBL is a student-centered approach that involves solving a real-world problem or answering a complex question through an extended process of inquiry, investigation, and product creation. PBL projects are usually interdisciplinary, collaborative, and driven by student interests and questions. PBL projects also incorporate elements of reflection, feedback, revision, and presentation.
PBL is important because it aligns with the demands and expectations of the modern world. PBL prepares students for college, career, and citizenship by developing their skills in communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, self-management, and digital literacy. PBL also fosters student engagement, motivation, ownership, and agency by giving them voice and choice in their learning. PBL also supports student diversity, equity, and inclusion by honoring their backgrounds, cultures, perspectives, and strengths.
What are the three shifts for rigorous PBL by design?
Rigorous PBL by design is a framework that guides educators in creating high-quality PBL projects that challenge students to achieve deeper learning outcomes. Rigorous PBL by design consists of three shifts:
From prescribed to inquiry-based learning
From surface to deep learning
From compliance to engagement
These shifts represent a shift in mindset, practice, and culture that can transform the way educators plan, facilitate, and assess PBL projects. In the following sections, we will explain each shift in detail and provide practical strategies for implementing them.
Shift 1: From Prescribed to Inquiry-Based Learning
What is inquiry-based learning and how does it differ from prescribed learning?
Inquiry-based learning is a form of active learning that involves students asking questions, exploring topics, gathering information, analyzing evidence, and drawing conclusions. Inquiry-based learning empowers students to take ownership of their learning and pursue their curiosity and interests. Inquiry-based learning also promotes higher-order thinking skills, such as analysis, synthesis, evaluation, and application.
Prescribed learning is a form of passive learning that involves students following instructions, memorizing facts, repeating procedures, and recalling information. Prescribed learning limits students' autonomy and creativity and focuses on lower-order thinking skills, such as knowledge, comprehension, and recall.
How to design inquiry-based learning experiences for PBL?
Define the driving question
The driving question is the central question that guides the PBL project. It should be open-ended, relevant, challenging, and engaging. It should also align with the learning objectives and standards of the project. A good driving question should spark students' curiosity and interest and motivate them to investigate further. For example, a driving question for a PBL project on climate change could be: How can we reduce our carbon footprint and make a positive impact on the environment?
Scaffold the inquiry process
The inquiry process is the sequence of steps that students follow to answer the driving question and create a product. It should be structured, but not rigid, to allow for flexibility and differentiation. It should also provide scaffolds, such as graphic organizers, checklists, rubrics, and models, to support students' inquiry skills and self-regulation. A common inquiry process for PBL projects is the following:
Engage: Introduce the driving question and activate prior knowledge and curiosity.
Explore: Conduct research and gather information from multiple sources.
Explain: Analyze and synthesize information and evidence.
Elaborate: Apply learning to create a product that answers the driving question.
Evaluate: Reflect on the learning process and product and receive feedback from peers and teachers.
Exhibit: Present the product to an authentic audience and celebrate learning.
Provide feedback and assessment
Feedback and assessment are essential components of inquiry-based learning. They help students monitor their progress, identify their strengths and weaknesses, improve their performance, and achieve their goals. Feedback and assessment should be ongoing, formative, and constructive. They should also involve multiple sources, such as self-assessment, peer assessment, teacher assessment, and external assessment. Feedback and assessment should also align with the criteria and standards of the project and provide specific suggestions for improvement. For example, a feedback form for a PBL project on climate change could include questions such as:
Did you answer the driving question clearly and convincingly?
Did you use reliable and relevant sources of information?
Did you analyze and synthesize information and evidence effectively?
Did you create a product that is original, creative, and appropriate for the audience?
Did you communicate your ideas clearly and persuasively?
What did you learn from this project?
What did you do well in this project?
What can you improve in this project?
Shift 2: From Surface to Deep Learning
What is deep learning and how does it differ from surface learning?
Deep learning is a type of learning that involves understanding concepts, making connections, applying knowledge, transferring skills, and creating new ideas. Deep learning leads to long-term retention, meaningful outcomes, and personal growth. Deep learning also fosters 21st century competencies, such as creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, communication, global awareness, digital literacy, and social responsibility.
Surface learning is a type of learning that involves memorizing facts, repeating procedures, recalling information, and reproducing ideas. Surface learning leads to short-term retention, superficial outcomes, and limited growth. Surface learning also focuses on basic skills, such as knowledge, comprehension, recall, recognition, reproduction.
How to foster deep learning in PBL?
Activate prior knowledge and curiosity
Prior knowledge is what students already know about a topic or subject. Curiosity is what students want to know or learn more about a topic or subject. Activating prior knowledge and curiosity helps students build on their existing schema, generate questions, and develop interest in the project. Some strategies for activating prior knowledge and curiosity are:
KWL chart: A graphic organizer that asks students what they Know, what they Want to know, and what they Learned about a topic.
with their prior knowledge and predictions about a topic.
Wonder wall: A bulletin board that displays students' questions and wonders about a topic.
Facilitate collaborative and critical thinking
Collaborative thinking is the process of sharing ideas, perspectives, and feedback with others. Critical thinking is the process of evaluating information, evidence, and arguments with logic and reasoning. Facilitating collaborative and critical thinking helps students develop their communication, interpersonal, and metacognitive skills. It also helps them deepen their understanding, challenge their assumptions, and justify their claims. Some strategies for facilitating collaborative and critical thinking are:
Think-pair-share: A cooperative learning technique that asks students to think individually about a question or problem, pair up with a partner to discuss their thoughts, and share their responses with the whole group.
Jigsaw: A cooperative learning technique that asks students to divide into expert groups to learn about a specific aspect of a topic, and then rejoin into mixed groups to teach each other what they learned.
Socratic seminar: A discussion method that asks students to engage in a dialogue based on a text or question, using evidence, logic, and questions to explore multiple perspectives and meanings.
Integrate authentic and meaningful tasks
Authentic tasks are tasks that resemble real-world situations and problems. Meaningful tasks are tasks that connect to students' interests, passions, and goals. Integrating authentic and meaningful tasks helps students apply their learning to relevant contexts and audiences. It also helps them develop their motivation, creativity, and agency. Some strategies for integrating authentic and meaningful tasks are:
Problem-based learning: A type of PBL that asks students to solve an ill-structured or open-ended problem that has no clear or single solution.
Service-learning: A type of PBL that asks students to address a community need or issue through action and reflection.
Passion project: A type of PBL that asks students to pursue a personal interest or passion and create a product or presentation that showcases their learning.
Shift 3: From Compliance to Engagement
What is engagement and how does it differ from compliance?
metacognition, self-regulation, and goal-setting.
Compliance is the degree of obedience, conformity, and submission that students have in their learning. Compliance can be measured by one dimension: extrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation refers to the external factors that influence students' learning, such as rewards, punishments, grades, and expectations. Compliance may lead to superficial or short-term learning outcomes, but it does not foster intrinsic motivation, interest, or enthusiasm.
How to increase engagement in PBL?
Empower student voice and choice
Student voice is the expression of students' opinions, preferences, and feedback in their learning. Student choice is the opportunity for students to make decisions and select options in their learning. Empowering student voice and choice helps students develop their autonomy, identity, and confidence. It also helps them personalize their learning and take responsibility for their outcomes. Some strategies for empowering student voice and choice are:
Student surveys: A tool that asks students to share their opinions, preferences, and feedback on various aspects of the project, such as the driving question, the product, the audience, the resources, and the assessment.
Student contracts: A tool that asks students to set their own goals, expectations, and responsibilities for the project, such as the timeline, the roles, the tasks, and the criteria.
Student portfolios: A tool that asks students to collect and showcase their work and reflections throughout the project, such as the research notes, the drafts, the feedback forms, and the final product.
Cultivate a growth mindset and self-efficacy
perseverance, and optimism. It also helps them embrace challenges, learn from mistakes, and celebrate successes. Some strategies for cultivating a growth mindset and self-efficacy are:
Growth mindset feedback: A type of feedback that focuses on the process rather than the product, praises the effort rather than the ability, and provides specific suggestions for improvement rather than judgment.
Growth mindset language: A type of language that uses positive and empowering words and phrases, such as "I can", "I will", "I learned", "I improved", and "yet".
Growth mindset activities: A type of activities that encourage students to reflect on their learning journey, share their challenges and achievements, and set new goals and action plans.
Celebrate learning and achievement
Celebrating learning and achievement is the act of recognizing and appreciating students' efforts, progress, and outcomes in their learning. Celebrating learning and achievement helps students develop their self-esteem, motivation, and satisfaction. It also helps them acknowledge their strengths, appreciate their peers, and value their learning. Some strategies for celebrating learning and achievement are:
Student showcase: An event that invites students to present their products to an authentic audience, such as parents, peers, teachers, or community members.
Student awards: A ceremony that honors students for their achievements in various categories, such as creativity, collaboration, communication, critical thinking, or problem-solving.
Student reflection: A process that asks students to think about what they learned, what they did well, what they can improve, and what they enjoyed in the project.
Summary of the main points
In this article, we have discussed how to design and implement rigorous PBL projects that challenge students to develop confident and competent learners. We have explored three shifts that can transform PBL from a superficial activity to a rigorous learning experience:
From prescribed to inquiry-based learning
From surface to deep learning
From compliance to engagement
facilitate, and assess PBL projects.
Call to action for educators
PBL is a powerful pedagogical approach that can enhance student learning and prepare them for the future. However, PBL requires careful design and implementation to ensure its quality and effectiveness. We hope that this article has inspired you to adopt the rigorous PBL by design framework and apply the three shifts in your own practice. We encourage you to experiment with different PBL projects and share your experiences and insights with other educators. Together, we can create rigorous PBL projects that develop confident and competent learners.
What is rigorous PBL by design?
Rigorous PBL by design is a framework that guides educators in creating high-quality PBL projects that challenge students to achieve deeper learning outcomes. Rigorous PBL by design consists of three shifts: from prescribed to inquiry-based learning, from surface to deep learning, and from compliance to engagement.
What are the benefits of rigorous PBL by design?
Rigorous PBL by design can help students improve their academic outcomes, motivation, creativity, and 21st century skills. It can also help students engage in authentic, meaningful, and collaborative learning experiences that prepare them for college, career, and citizenship.
How can I design rigorous PBL projects?
You can design rigorous PBL projects by following these steps:
Identify the learning objectives and standards of the project.
Define the driving question that guides the project.
Design the inquiry process that students follow to answer the driving question and create a product.
Integrate authentic and meaningful tasks that connect to real-world contexts and audiences.
Provide feedback and assessment that align with the criteria and standards of the project.
Empower student voice and choice in their learning.
Cultivate a growth mindset and self-efficacy in students.
Celebrate learning and achievement with students.
How can I facilitate rigorous PBL projects?
You can facilitate rigorous PBL projects by following these tips:
Establish a positive and supportive learning environment.
Scaffold students' inquiry skills and self-regulation.
Facilitate collaborative and critical thinking among students.
Monitor students' progress and provide ongoing feedback.
Encourage students to reflect on their learning process and product.
Invite students to present their products to an authentic audience.
Where can I find more resources on rigorous PBL by design?
You can find more resources on rigorous PBL by design from these sources:
and Competent Learners" by Michael McDowell.
The website "PBLWorks" by the Buck Institute for Education.
The website "Edutopia" by the George Lucas Educational Foundation.