Why PBL?

Creating and developing skills by doing is the product of understanding. This supports and leads me to share about the importance of project-Based Learning (PBL). I first became familiar with PBL when reading Tony Wagner’s Global Achievement Gap that goes to a much deeper level about schools that work. He defined rigor as not how much content is covered but how deep the analysis of the content goes. Rigor is about the pursuit of inquiry, which results from hands-on learning and showing what you know. After beginning a new reading and writing program three years ago, time did not permit any efforts of implementing PBL into the curriculum. I now realize just how important it was for developing thinkers and problem solvers, and I will now be looking at ways to find time to bring it back into the classroom.

If there is anyone else who is thinking about incorporating PBL, Wagner’s 21st century skills are at the core of student learning that will help to develop thinking dispositions that will continue to serve them as life-long learners:

Critical thinking and problem solving
Collaboration across networks
Agility and adaptability (quickly move and adapt to situations)
Initiative and entrepreneurship
Effective oral and written communication
Assessing and analyzing information
Curiosity and imagination

Every bit of these 21st century skills can be accomplished through interdisciplinary projects such as Project Based Learning (PBL) that guide students in inquiry as they search to answer a central question (driving question), solving a problem, or meeting a challenge and designing something to make this world a better place. PBL allows a shift from traditional teaching to an environment where the students become active participants in their learning.

First of all, with PBL it is important to know my role as a teacher:

Constructivist philosophy

  • I serve as the facilitator or guide on the side –
  • Create a positive learning culture- encourage the students to be risk takers and that it is ok to make mistakes
  • Incorporate standards
  • Develop, model, and nurture inquiry (manager of the inquiry process)
  • To be flexible prepare for things to go in an unexpected direction
  • Model the willingness to be a learner- there will be many times that I don’t know the answer but will model for them how to go about finding the answers.
  • Assessor of learning- it is important to use formative assessment throughout

The role of a student: 

  • Collaborators
  • Self-managers
  • Conductors of Research
  • Decision-makers
  • Problem-solvers
  • Peer/self evaluators
  • Innovators
Assessments: It is important to begin with the end in mind thinking about the standards that I need to cover as well as thinking dispositions that need to be developed among the students; with that in mind I can come up with the understanding performance or essential questions.
Good questions: The students have to know how to pose real open-ended questions, find resources and determine validity of information on websites, they have to interpret that information, and report their findings while using the inquiry process.
Ways to assess throughout the PBL process: There are many nontraditional ways to provide formative assessment which is the most important for learning and developing understanding. This can be accomplished through the following:
  • Rubrics Problem
  • solving guides
  • Reflection journals
  • Self-assessments
  • Reflection essays
  • Small/Whole Group discussions

Technology can be used to enhance thinking and learning in several ways:

  • ePortfolios where students compile a collection of their digital writing where they self-reflect and apply metacognition.
  • Screenflows for recording instruction for flip teaching, providing reinforcement, or small group situations for one-on-one instruction
  • Digital tools such as Glogster, Prezi, and Google for presenting research findings or self-reflection
  • VoiceThread for global sharing, collaborating, and providing feedback
  • Learning Management Systems such as Edmodo, Haiku, or Google for organizing instruction, collaboration, and assessments
  •  Google Documents, presentations, etc. for creating a paperless classroom and enabling collaboration and feedback to occur outside of the classroom.

I am looking forward to beginning this journey once again so that my students can experience more meaningful learning and develop skills that will foster a growth mindset and life-long learner.



Harvard University. (2010). Project zero. Graduate school of education.
Wagner, T. (2010). The global achievement gap: why even our best schools don’t teach the new survival skills our children need–and what we can do about it. Published by basic books. New York, new york.
 Wagner, T. (2012). Creating innovators: the making of young people who will change the world. A division of simon & schuster, inc. New york, new york.

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Kim Pruitt

Post author: Kim Pruitt

I am currently a 5th grade ELA teacher at Presbyterian Day School implementing technology for a blended learning environment. I received an Elementary Education Degree at Mississippi College and my Masters in Instructional Design and Technology at the University of Memphis. I have attended Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Project Zero and I use thinking routines through digital writing, collaboration, and reflection to develop deeper cognitive learning.

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