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March 1, 2021

Golden Opportunities for PBL Ahead

In previous posts I have made a case for why we need Project-Based Learning (PBL) now more than ever. And by PBL I don’t mean it in the traditional sense, rather I am referring to a modified version of PBL called PBL-lite, which is more realistic in our current virtual learning contexts. In order to uphold fidelity to the model of PBL it is important that we continue to embed critical best practices. Rather than feeling overwhelmed by the many nuances of PBL, it’s my hope that we can see them as golden opportunities. We are in a unique moment and, as we prepare for learning ahead, that gives us new freedoms and flexibilities that we wished for when we were tied down by a brick and mortar setting. So let’s explore how we can reimagine the project launch, field work and exhibition through PBL-lite, in whatever setting lies ahead this fall

Golden Opportunity #1: The Launch

Now that we are shifting to online learning the Launch couldn’t be more important…or more exciting! In hybrid learning the constant question on our minds will be, “What do I do in class vs. what do I assign at home”. When designing PBL for this new environment, it will be important to plan for the launch to happen at school. And here is why:

  • The launch sets the stage and contextualizes learning 
  • The launch will help continue to build a community of learners
  • The launch establishes important systems and structures for the learning ahead 

Here are some ideas for ways to launch your project virtually:

  • The Question Formulation Technique can live on! You can present students with a “focus” such as a video link, send students on virtual field work with Google Earth, or have a recorded webinar with an expert. Then have students jot down their questions, sort, and prioritize in a Google Doc. Wrap up the launch with a submitted reflection for “next steps”. 
  • Need something simpler? How about a PowerPoint or Google Slides filled with images related to the subject of your project. Students can then respond to a simple prompt using Visible or Artful Thinking Routines.  

Additional ideas for conducting a project launch together in the classroom, with a follow-up at home:  

Launch plans 

Class time 

Home time 

Simulation, Lab  

Debrief experience 

Reflection-collect “Knows” and “Need to Knows” and next steps in a Google Doc. 

Media share (watch video, view photos, listen to a song) 

Use artful or visible thinking routines to share out and collect as “model of excellence” to reference later 

Develop questions following Question Formulation Technique process to help land on a research question. 

Guest speaker

Model, conduct interview

Reflect on what was learned and develop questions for learning in project. Send a thank you note to guest speaker and include 3 things you learned! 

Learn more about the project launch here.

Golden Opportunity #2: Field work

Field work provides the most exciting opportunity for hybrid learning within PBL. Field work is when students engage in work “in the field” to push deeper understanding. Field work can include any of the following:

  • A trip to conduct observations 
  • Capturing footage (pictures, tallies, videos, etc.)
  • An interview, focus groups (end users, experts, etc.)
  • A guest speaker visit 
  • Feedback collection on project work (end users, experts, etc.)

Here are some virtual alternatives for field work:

  • Live webcams
  • Zoom meetings or Facetime calls 
  • Google Earth trip 
  • Google Doc feedback on project work 

Best practices for field work include:

  • Ask students to take “field notes” to capture their thinking and learning (see below for an example)
  • Have students debrief the field work experience with the group so that others can learn from their experiences 
  • Ask students to reflect on what they learned while it’s fresh! 
  • Build in application of learning from the field work to the actual project

Check out the “What could be: A guide to PBL ahead” e-book for more ideas for field work that supports project learning, and a hybrid schedule with field work to be used in any given week

Golden Opportunity #3: Exhibition 

Sharing student work and learning with an authentic audience is a best practice of PBL. Now that the world is more engaged on their devices and present in their community, there are endless ways that students can get their work in front of people. Below are some ideas and vehicles for students to share their learning beyond the classroom. Remember, a best practice of PBL planning is to plan with the end in mind, so be sure to think about who students will share their final products with in the early stages of project planning.

Project work



Published book by kids for kids 

Young readers

Create an e-book to share via Blurb 

Published book by kids for kids 

All readers 

Virtual author event- webinar to include authors sharing a piece of their writing with a virtual book signing

Public Service Announcement 

Specific demographic 

Link on a Padlet and market across social media 

Print Campaign


Print and post in neighborhood locations 

Social Media Campaign 

Parents of school community 

School account takeover 

Opinion writing 

General readers 

Op-ed piece to local news source 

To learn more about exhibition click here. 

The ability to leverage the real-world for student learning is rich.  While there are many challenges to teaching and learning ahead, I hope this post made a case for celebrating a few golden opportunities for us. To learn more about PBL-lite check out this video or these curated resources. 


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