Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
Building to Extremes Human Body Shop SpyCatchers Hi-Tech War Crash Site Secrets Miracle Cell Light Speed Brain Fingerprinting Innovation - Life, Inspired
For Teachers
overview lesson plan list

classroom tips
Two tall towers
The Petronas Towers, in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, were the world's tallest buildings until recently.
Visit PBS TeacherSource

Steps for Project-Based Learning
Academic Standards
Project-based Learning Resources


INNOVATION presents scenarios in which people are challenged to push disciplinary and design boundaries in order to create cutting-edge technology projects. These endeavors can inspire students' curiosity and desire to participate actively in project design and building -- so INNOVATION is ideally suited to be a starting point for project-based learning.

Project-based learning is an instructional method in which students learn a range of skills and subject matter in the process of creating their own projects. Sometimes, these projects are solutions to a real-world problem. But what is most important in project-based learning is that students learn in the process of making something. They work in groups and bring their own experiences, abilities, learning styles and perspectives to the project.

In the course of developing a project, students decide on an approach by gathering and evaluating data from a variety of print, multimedia or Internet sources. They analyze and synthesize the information they have gathered and -- in a cooperative effort -- they determine the direction the project will take. Often the process is interdisciplinary in nature, and the various skills and interests in the group becomes an asset. Students then design and create their project -- and learn to solve specific problems in the process. Technology can also play a major role in the project; students may use spreadsheets, electronic publishing, databases, email, and forums for research and communication. Throughout the process, the teacher acts as facilitator and advisor, guiding rather than directing.

Project-based learning develops students' skills in areas such as problem-solving, critical thinking, visualizing, decision-making, cross-cultural understanding, and reasoning, as well as in written and oral communication. Students engaged in project-based learning take responsibility for their own learning and in so doing become lifelong learners. They also develop better interpersonal and communication skills. Project-based learning recognizes the varying abilities of the students, allowing them to draw from their individual strengths to work in areas of their own interest, thus giving them the opportunity to achieve at higher level.

Steps for Project-Based Learning

Step 1: Identify a project idea.
Choose a project that will engage the students. It's often useful to choose a project that solves a real-world problem for which there are multiple solutions. Make the project relevant to the students' lives, so that they feel they are making an impact in their present environment. Let the goals meet standards.

Step2: Define a plan
Involve students in the planning process and let them feel that they have an active role in decision-making. Select activities from the curriculum, but take an interdisciplinary approach by incorporating other subjects. Always be prepared to venture into new subjects when they are encountered.

Step 3: Determine the timeframe.
Establish a timeline that is flexible but structured. Set benchmarks for different stages of the project. Assist students in time management: Keep them to their schedule by guiding them through the project, and ask them to justify corrections to the schedule when they decide to change direction and follow new paths.

Step 4: Monitor the projects
Facilitate the students' process by providing resources and guidance. Help students define their roles and encourage them to assume responsibility while interacting in the group. Assist the students in understanding the project's parameters by asking them to identify their goals, tasks, and outcomes. Remind students that they are responsible for every step of the process and that this requires their total involvement. Assess the process as well as the project to ensure the meeting of standards and requirements. Use rubrics to assess team dynamics and the project itself.

Step 5: Assess the outcome
Evaluate the project's progress and give students feedback on their understanding of the material and their teamwork. Allow for student self-assessment. Peer reviews can also play an effective role in the process. Also, encourage students to reflect on how the process itself has been valuable for them: This can help the teacher design more effective instruction.

Step 6: Reflect on the experience
Allow for individual reflection on a daily basis, perhaps by using tools like journals and idea books. Also, have group reflection and discussion. Discuss what has been learned, and what needs improvement. Sharing ideas in this way can lead to new questions, and can also help students find new ways to tackle the project. Reflection can also give rise to new projects that engage the students even more successfully, since the new projects arise from the students' own experiences of problem-solving.

Academic Standards

The process of project-based learning may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from CONTENT KNOWLEDGE: A COMPENDIUM OF STANDARDS AND BENCHMARKS FOR K-12 EDUCATION and have been provided courtesy of McREL, the Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning.

Working with Others: Standard 1
Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Benchmarks: Challenges practices in a group that are not working; Demonstrates respect for others in the group; Takes initiative when needed; Identifies and deals with causes of conflict in a group; Engages in active listening; Evaluates the overall progress of a group toward a goal.

Working with Others: Standard 2
Uses conflict-resolution techniques
Benchmarks: Communicates ideas in a manner that does not irritate others; Understands that three effective responses to criticism are (1) acknowledgment, (2) token agreement with a critic, and (3) probing clarifications; Identifies individual vs. group or organizational interests in conflicts

Working with Others: Standard 4
Displays effective interpersonal communication skills.
Benchmarks: Displays empathy with others; Displays friendliness with others; Seeks information nondefensively; Provides feedback in a constructive manner; Uses nonverbal communication such as eye contact, body position, voice tone effectively; Reacts to ideas rather than to the person presenting the ideas.

Thinking and Reasoning: Standard 1
Understands and applies the basic principles of presenting an argument.
Benchmarks: Understands that when people try to prove a point, they may at times select only the information that supports it and ignore the information that contradicts it; Identifies techniques used to slant information in subtle ways; Understands that to be convincing, an argument must have both true statements and valid connections among them; Evaluates the overall effectiveness of complex arguments.

Thinking and Reasoning: Standard 2
Understands and applies basic principles of logic and reasoning.
Benchmarks: Analyzes the deductive validity of arguments based on implicit or explicit assumptions; Understands that people sometimes reach false conclusions either by applying faulty logic to true statements or by applying valid logic to false statements; Understands that a reason may be sufficient to get a result but may not be the only way to get the result (i.e., may not be necessary), or a reason may be necessary to obtain a result but not sufficient (i.e., other things are also required; some reasons may be both necessary and sufficient).

Thinking and Reasoning: Standard 4
Understands and applies basic principles of hypothesis testing and scientific inquiry
Benchmarks: Understands that there are a variety of ways people can form hypotheses, including basing them on many observations, basing them on very few observations, and constructing them on only one or two observations; Identifies and critiques studies in which data, explanations, or conclusions are presented as the only ones worth considering; Presents alternative explanations and conclusions to one's own experiments and those of others.

Thinking and Reasoning: Standard 5
Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques.
Benchmarks: Applies trouble-shooting strategies to complex real-world situations; Represents a problem accurately in terms of resources, constraints, and objectives; Reframes problems when alternative solutions are exhausted; Evaluates the feasibility of various solutions to problems; recommends and defends a solution.

Language Arts: Standard 4
Gathers and uses information for research purposes.
Benchmarks: Uses appropriate research methodology; Uses a variety of print and electronic sources to gather information for research topics; Synthesizes information from multiple research studies to draw conclusions that go beyond those found in any of the individual studies; Uses systematic strategies to organize and record information.

Language Arts: Standard 8
Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes.
Benchmarks: Uses criteria to evaluate own and others' effectiveness in group discussions and formal presentations; Asks questions as a way to broaden and enrich classroom discussions; Uses a variety of strategies to enhance listening comprehension; Makes formal presentations to the class; Responds to questions and feedback about own presentations.

Project-based Learning Resources

In Print

Diffily, Deborah and Charlotte Sassman. Project-Based Learning with Young Children. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2002.
This book looks at timelines and strategies for implementing project-based learning and student-guided learning in early grades.

Hassard, Jack. Science as Inquiry. Parsippany, NJ: Good Year Books, 2000.
This study offers ideas for technology supported projects for middle-school science classes.

Moursund, David. Project-Based Learning Using Information Technology. Eugene, OR: International Society for Technology in Education, 1999.
This bestselling resource provides an overview of project-based learning theory and practical advice for using technology-assisted activities to develop higher-order thinking skills.

Newell, Ronald J. Passion for Learning: How Project-Based Learning Meets the Needs of 21st-century Students. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 2003.
This study considers case studies of project-based learning implemented in Henderson, MN.

Solomon, Gwen. "Project-Based Learning: A Primer." Technology and Learning, January 2003, 20-30. (Also available online at
This article introduces educators to the theory and practical strategies of project-based learning.

On the Web

Project-based Learning Checklists
This site offers a brief description of project-based learning with a checklist wizard, which helps teachers to create checklists for students in a variety of disciplines and grade levels.

Challenge 2000: Project-Based Learning and Multimedia Web site
This site contains samples of student projects, guidelines for teachers, Web tutorials, notes on rubric development, and more. Project-Based Learning
The Buck Institute for Education here provides an overview of project-based learning, examples of rubrics, implementation tools, a project-planning form, and a tuning protocol to help students evaluate project development.

iEARN (International Education and Research Network)
iEARN helps students use new technologies to create collaborative educational projects that make a difference in the world at large.

The Global Schoolhouse
This site offers a "clearinghouse" of over 900 student projects, which students can search for ideas or partnerships.

The Collaboratory
This site, from Northwestern University, provides project consulting, training, technical advice, and Web-based resources for K-12 teachers interested in creating internet projects for their students.

Professional Development Modules: Project-Based Learning
The George Lucas Education Foundation provides this free instructional module for teachers interested in learning more about project-based learning.

Technology Supports Project-Based Learning
This archived material describes how technology -- used in conjunction with project-based learning -- creates learning environments that use "collaborative learning, heterogeneous groupings of students, teachers acting as facilitators rather than lecturers, multidisciplinary curricula, longer blocks of time, and more authentic forms of assessment."

Be more inspired. Help bring programs like INNOVATION to your PBS station ... pledge online! E-mail this page
ask the experts for teachers resources about the series sitemap
INNOVATION Online is a production of Thirteen WNET New York. Copyright 2004 Educational Broadcasting Corporation.