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Project based learning (PBL) and Inquiry

PBL Overview:
Inquiry driven, activity based learning with the student learning at the center. 

Some of you are brand new to project based learning (PBL). Don't let that worry you. Let's first tackle the role of inquiry in PBL. That the nature of "essential questions" and "driving questions." To some they are identical. To others an "essential question" is the most general learning goal phrased as a question, whereas a "driving question" might be viewed more as a "unit question," somewhat subordinate to the essential question. Driving questions are able to stand on its own in guiding a PBL unit. 

How to do PBL

The short version.

  • Engage your learners.
  • Allow sufficient time.
  • Think about assessment upfront.
  • Don't overtax yourself or your students.

The three action steps of “project based learning”

  1. Inquire:
    construct a driving question. Realize that you do not know the answer.
  2. Research:
    read, research, broaden. This may or may not involve collaboration.
  3. Share:
    part of this may be written, an oral presentation, or part may go online

Buck Institute for Education

The Buck Institute for Education (BIE) is a fabulous resource for implementing PBL.

Inquiry is determined by the questions one asks.

How do you know what you want to know?


Just don't rely on one source. PBL has been around as a concept since the days of John Dewey and Jean Piaget.

An Introduction to Project-Based Learning (3 min.)

Project-Based Learning: An Overview (9 min.)

Other PBL Resources

As one moves up the ladder of "Bloom's Taxonomy," the questions and learning activities become more open ended, a natural consequence of higher order thinking. Developing a rubric is essential as is the necessity of sharing that rubric with students.

Unbridled Inquiry: Should you ask Questions to which that No One Knows the answer?

Lawyers are taught never to ask questions of a witness to which they do not already know the answer. Are teachers different?

If the heart of project based learning is the open-ended question, then it might lead us to ask, "Are there questions we can ask to which there are no answers?" Chris Anderson, the editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine, and as part of TED-ED, He has produced a fascinating video titled: Questions no one knows the answers to. He narrates it. Animation by Andrew Park of cognitivemedia.co.uk.

View the full lesson here.
For more lessons, see TedEd, Lessons Worth Sharing. I really do like the whole Find & Flip concept.

ISTE Standards

ISTE is the International Society for Technology in Education. It maintains the national standards learning, leading and teaching in the digital age.

21st Century Skills 

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is a national organization dedicated to enabling students - future workers in this global economy - to be successful.

Common Core State Standards 

Educational standards describe what students should know and be able to do in each grade level. The California Department of Education has defined both the standards and an implementation plan for common core.

Modern Information Dilemmas

How do we evaluate information we find on the web? Teacher are increasingly concerned about online research skills of students. Check out this great article addressing the issue, and providing some solutions.

November and Mull (2012) state that there are “three pillars” of information literacy:

  1. Purposeful search

  2. Effective organization and collaboration

  3. Sharing and making sense of information

Assessing PBL

Suzie Boss puts it all together in The Challenge of Assessing Project-Based Learning (Oct. 2012)

PBL is expanding beyond these early adopters as districts consider strategies to help students meet the Common Core State Standards. PBL emphasizes student choice and open-ended questions, and therefore assessment - and student evidence of learning - is more complex.

Eli Pariser discusses the dilemma of the "filter bubble." Check out this YouTube video:

 Discussion questions for Teachers:

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