Project-based Learning

Project-based Learning

According to Blending Learning: The Convergence of Online and Face-to-Face Education (iNACOL, 2011), "education teaches information gathering and critical thinking. As the United States economy increasingly moves towards being based on information and services, more and more jobs—and indeed entire sectors of the economy—require that workers be able to acquire information, analyze data, and act on their newly created knowledge."

In Understanding by Design, Wiggins and McTighe define performance tasks and projects as open-ended, complex, and authentic. These are the tasks that represent what is important to know and do within the content area, and reflect "enduring understanding" of the concepts.

Group fist bump

Project-based learning centers around a provocative, open-ended, challenging question. This question is designed to connect academic content knowledge to real-world problems. Broad questions provide multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their knowledge and learning, following divergent paths to deepen their understanding. In the online environment, quality instruction features multimedia representations, including text, images, audio, video, animations, and interactive elements. This combination of multimedia provides a depth of knowledge and breadth of learning modalities to communicate academic concepts in ways that text alone cannot. notes that, "Project-based Learning teaches students 21st century skills as well as content. These skills include communication and presentation skills, organization and time management skills, research and inquiry skills, self-assessment and reflection skills, and group participation and leadership skills."

There are many strategies and tools teachers can use for creating project-based learning activities. Internet-based activities such as scavenger hunts and WebQuests provide a structure for students to locate information and then apply it. Online collaboration may include discussion forums, group brainstorming, and team problem solving. Product options in the online and blended environments may include traditional text-based reports, but can easily expand to include screencasts, video and video mashups, websites, online presentations, and animations.

PBL and the Common Core

The Common Core State Standards were collaboratively developed by the National Governor's Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Most states in the nation have adopted Common Core State Standards. Each state has made slight modifications to the Common Core State Standards; for state-specific Common Core Standards, visit your state department of education website.

The Common Core State Standards:

  • are robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that students need for success in college and careers.
  • emphasize literacy across disciplines and prepare students for competing successfully in a global economy.
  • ensure consistent expectations regardless of a student's zip code.
  • provide educators, parents, and students with a clear understanding of what students need to know and understand in order to achieve academic and career goals,
  • engage students in reading and evaluating more informational text.

The Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects are based on the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards (view the Anchor Standards for Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language), the foundation for students to be successful in college and career. The Standards address the strands of Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language. The K-12 Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects articulate backwards from the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards, providing students a scaffolded experience in each grade level designed to lead to competency by graduation. The Anchor Standards indicate what students should know and be able to do by the time they complete high school. For more detailed information regarding the Common Core State Standards Initiative go to:

In Mathematics, there is heavy emphasis on the Standards for Mathematical Practice, which require students to experiment with tools and processes, apply abstract reasoning and critical thinking, and persevere in problem solving in complex mathematical tasks. Student must be able to combine skills and processes to solve multi-step processes, and solve word and modeling problems that may have many appropriate representations and approaches.

Assessments of the Common Core State Standards include multiple performance tasks, asking students to solve complex problems by designing their own processes. The English Language Arts Standards emphasize skillful research, formulating well-supported arguments, and anticipating differing perspectives. Communication, both written and oral, must weave together complex information into skillfully organized compositions. For more on Common Core assessments, see Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).

While the Common Core State Standards focus on math, English Language Arts and content literacy, they also emphasize technology as a way to build knowledge and skills in these areas. Just as media and technology are integrated in school and life in the twenty-first century, skills related to media use (both critical analysis and production of media) are integrated throughout the standards.

Positive Interdependence

"When established successfully, positive interdependence results in students’ recognizing that their individual success is inextricably linked to the success of every other member of the group. This realization only occurs when the accomplishment of a group task requires more than just segmenting the work into smaller pieces for members to do alone. The structure of the task must demand that each member of the group offer a unique contribution to the joint effort. When students perceive that every member is indispensable to achieving their mutual goals and that they are both dependent on and obligated to their peers, conditions are ripe for collaborative learning."

From: Frey, N., Fisher, D., Everlove, S. Productive Group Work: How to Engage Students, Build Teamwork, and Promote Understanding. ASCD Book. 6 Jul. 2016 <>

Individual accountability is present if three conditions are present: 1) a student performs on his/her own; 2) the performance or the product of the performance must be seen by someone else; and 3) the individual performance is required. To summarize these conditions we define individual accountability as "An individual, public performance is required." Individual accountability drives achievement. When we know we will be held accountable for an individual performance we are more motivated and try harder than when we know no one will see how much we have learned or how well we can perform.

Positive. The word positive in the term positive interdependence is based on extensive research demonstrating that cooperation almost always results when there is a positive correlation among outcomes.

Interdependence. The word interdependence in the term positive interdependence refers literally to situations in which students must depend on each other. "Interdependence occurs when help is necessary."

Positive interdependence drives cooperation. When our outcomes are linked, we hope for and support the success of others; when we cannot do a task alone, we work with others.

From: Kagan, S. The "P" and "I" of PIES: Powerful Principles for Success. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Fall/Winter 2011

The links to these resources offer a more in-depth look at positive interdependence.

Media/Technology Specific Standards in the College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards

Reading: R.CCR.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

Writing: W.CCR.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

W.CCR.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

Speaking & Listening: SL.CCR.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

SL.CCR.5 Make strategic use of digital media and visual displays of data to express information and enhance understanding of presentations.

blue doors with anchors

Just as in a face-to-face environment, in an online or blended environment the Common Core State Standards should be integrated into daily assignments, readings, and peer interactions in a grade appropriate manner.

"Wing Project: Crafting a Driving Question - YouTube." 29 May. 2009, Accessed 19 May. 2017.

This video, Wing Project: Crafting a Driving Question shows the process that interdisciplinary teams might engage in to create an open-ended, authentic question for students to explore (5 minutes).

Frey, N., Fisher, D., Everlove, S. Productive Group Work: How to Engage Students, Build Teamwork, and Promote Understanding. ASCD Book. 6 Jul. 2016 <>

Kagan, S. The "P" and "I" of PIES: Powerful Principles for Success. San Clemente, CA: Kagan Publishing. Kagan Online Magazine, Fall/Winter 2011