Project Based Learning Quest



The Project Based Learning Framework helps educators label the essential elements of design when creating project, problem or challenge based learning opportunities for students. The image above offers a visual context of the student-driven elements found in Project Based Learning experiences. Though the individual ideas are easy for teachers to grasp, the meshing of them is often intertwined, distinctions can be hard to see at first, and the range of sub-components can vary greatly, as well. This WebQuest is designed to first familiarize you with the elements of Problem Based Learning, then to examine and discuss examples that combine these elements to different degrees and success, and finally to help you define the areas of interplay in your own words and with your own students in mind.

The Task:

Wrestling with existing definitions and real life examples, you will work with a group to review and critique a set of PBL examples. By the end of this Quest, you and your group will answer these questions:
  1. Which two lessons/projects listed below best blend the student-drive elements with significant content and life-long learning skills? Why?
  2. Which two blend the least thoughtfully? Why?
  3. What do best and worst mean to you according to your role?

The Process:

Step 1) First, we'll review how The Buck Institute for Education defines Project Based Learning. We'll view the video as a whole group, then read the BIE post for further details. For more background, you may also be interested in exploring the students perspective.

Step 2) Next, you will be one in a group of four. Each member of the group should take a moment to read/examine each perspective, individually. To create a Jigsaw, each member will be assigned one of the four perspectives from which to examine the lessons/projects below. The four perspectives are:

The Subject Matter Expert
(think The Professor)

The Process Specialist(think John Dewey )
The Rigor Expert
(think Paul Zeitz)

The Inquiry & Metacognition Specialist
(think Jamie McKenzie)
You are an expert in your content area. All of your lessons and the content for any activities or projects are:
  • tightly align with state, district and/or school content standards.
  • vetted for accuracy and connection to standards.
  • include a formal, summative assessment of student comprehension
  • delivered through a range of media (audio podcasts, video tutorials, lectures, texts, etc.), either created or approved by you
You believe the greatest learning surfaces in the process, not the product. You require students to:
  • document their learning journey, including starting steps, timeline, unexpected turns, iterations, mistakes and successes.
  • seek input and critical feedback from their local and global peers at multiple points throughout the process
  • connect with learning and field experts, as well as others who can offer a range of different perspectives and "outside" voices, to help strengthen and add depth to their work
  • individually or collectively, reflect on their choices, effort, achievement & learning at multiple points throughout each project
  • consider and implement feedback at key points before, during and at the close of each project.
You believe rigor is not an absolute but a relative criterion, referring to the intersection of a learner’s prior learning and the demands of the question. You design lessons where students must:
  • noodle their way through, or puzzle out the process of a demanding question, rather than apply specific techniques to find quick solutions.
  • face a novel(-seeming) question
  • do something with an atypically high degree of precision and skill
  • both invent and double-check the approach and result (be it in math or writing a paper).
You prefer students generate their own or class questions (driving and/or sub-questions).
  • Rather than answer students questions for them, you prefer to support them in discovering their own answers.
  • You encourage students to think of new and deeper questions (less, or not at all Google-able), as a result of their initial discoveries
  • You set firm expectations that students will dig underneath the surface of information to find greater meaning, make sense of the information and draw connections to other areas of their learning.
  • You take to heart Comenius' quote, "Let the main object of this, our Didactic, be as follows: To seek and to find a method of instruction by which teachers may teach less, but learners may learn more..."

Step 3) Then, you will create Perspective Expert groups with the other team members who represent the perspective you have been assigned.
  • With your group, examine each of the lessons/projects below
  • Use the worksheet to jot down some notes of your opinions of each from your perspective (try not to let your everyday perspective cloud your judgement).
  • Discuss as a group how each project supports your assigned perspective, being sure to identify specific elements in each.
  • You'll need to examine each site fairly quickly. Don't spend more than 7 minutes on any one site. Your facilitator can keep time using this clock:
Time spent so far:

Here are the lessons/projects you'll be analyzing:
  1. A Hero In My Eyes
  2. Flood Watch
  3. Blood Bank Project
  4. The Productivity Project
  5. The Hydrology Project

Step 4) When the Perspective Expert groups have examined all the lessons/projects, it's time to get back together with your Jigsaw group to answer the questions:

  1. Which two lessons/projects listed above best blend the student-drive elements with significant content and life-long learning skills? Why?
  2. Which three blend the least thoughtfully? Why?
  3. What do best and worst mean to you according to your given role/perspective?

One way to proceed would be to go around and poll each team member for the best two and worst two from their perspective. Pay attention to each of the other perspectives, even if at first you think you might disagree with them. Use the PBL diagram to determine where the strengths and weaknesses of each project fall.

There will probably not be unanimous agreement, so the next step is to talk together to hammer out a compromise consensus about your team's nominations for best and worst. Pool your perspectives and see if you can agree on what's best for the learner. DO NOT JUST TALLY UP THE VOTES AND DECLARE A WINNER. Instead, begin to put aside your individual perspective and come to an agreement that takes into account all four perspectives.

One person in each group should record the group's thoughts:.

When debriefing time is called, report your results to the whole group. Do you think the other groups will agree with your conclusions?


  • Individually, revisit the PBL definitions, examples and resources from Step 1.
  • Discuss whole group.
  • How do your definitions compare with the literature & video?


As a group of four, pick one of the previous activities, consider it from all four perspectives. What could you modify to strengthen this lesson/project according to the PBL diagram?

Additional Project/Problem/Challenge Based Learning Ideas, Project Samples & Resources:

Modified from:
PBL Diagram:
Role Avatars: