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How is PBL used?

The goal of Bellevue BPS is to create a PBL rich experience for students across all grades and courses. Projects vary in length, from several days to several weeks or even a semester. Usually the projects are done in teams of two to four students. This emphasizes the collaborative nature of learning and develops interpersonal communication skills, all of which will be reinforced in the internships.

Why PBL?

Students gain a deeper understanding of the concepts and standards at the heart of a project. Projects also build vital workplace skills and lifelong habits of learning. The skills learned through PBL are the top 5 skills which employers are looking for in employees in the 21st Century. (NACE press release, 2010) Projects can allow students to address community issues, explore careers, interact with adult mentors, use technology, and present their work to audiences beyond the classroom. PBL can motivate students who might otherwise find school boring or meaningless.

Keys to Bellevue Big Picture PBL
AUTHENTIC PROBLEMS OR QUESTIONS – Authentic problems are relevant to the lives of students, teachers, and/or to a professional field or discipline. They should be relevant to the problem-solving efforts of recognizable professionals in the community. They should also be multi-faceted and multi-layered, demanding the cognitive capacity of groups of people to reach a solution. As with real-world problems, there will often be more than one possible solution or solution strategy. As students become more proficient in solving problems, teachers should work collaboratively with students and professionals to identify problems that are increasingly complex and less structured, allowing students to build their skills at identifying, describing, and deconstructing complex, authentic problems. – adapted from Sammamish HS Key Elements
AUTHENTIC ASSESSMENT – Teachers continually use both formative and summative assessment to achieve student learning objectives and to collect data for improving their practice.  Good assessment is timely, transparent, thoughtful, and specific and is meaningful to students and teachers. Authentic assessment measures student capacities in a variety of ways. Assessment methods are chosen to match the standards and skills being measured, as well as to reflect performances of professionals in a given discipline. Students are given multiple opportunities over time to demonstrate mastery in the content and skill objectives of the course with an emphasis on growth over time. Authentic assessment is based on articulated standards drawn from the Common Core, College Board, and other state and national standards. – adapted from Sammamish HS Key Elements
COLLABORATION – Collaboration is the collective action of groups to solve problems. High-quality collaboration is characterized by a set of both interpersonal and project management behaviors. Interpersonal behaviors supporting successful collaboration include active listening to all fellow members; responding to and building on others’ ideas; and an ability to resolve conflict. Project management behaviors include displaying responsibility to the group (following through on assignments, going beyond simply completing one’s individual assignment to see how the assignment adds to the quality of the product as a whole); and awareness of group goals and timelines, including frequent check-ins and adjustments as needed. Additionally, in order for students to see the effectiveness of and need for collaboration, the tasks they address should be “group worthy” – that is, tasks that require multiple members’ skills and inputs to be successfully completed. – adapted from Sammamish HS Key Elements
REAL-WORLD CONNECTIONS – It needs to be real and relevant to students. Starting with an authentic problem in the community, or in the neighborhood, or the world can anchor the unit’s driving question. Start to examine what’s happening in your local community. What are some problems? What are some needs? Who are people that you can connect with, that perhaps can offer insight into a need or an opportunity? Very often when you are able to bring in a person or a group of people, or a representative to a community issue, a community need, it becomes very real for kids. Take students out into the community or invite experts from organizations into your classroom? Use technology if needed. You might see something in the news, in a movie, or in a conversation with students that is a great way to start a problem in your classroom. – from
STUDENT VOICE & CHOICE – Having a say in a project creates a sense of ownership in students; they care more about the project and work harder. If students aren’t able to use their judgment when solving a problem and answering a driving question, the project just feels like doing an exercise or following a set of directions. Students can have input and (some) control over many aspects of a project, from the questions they generate, to the resources they will use to find answers to their questions, to the tasks and roles they will take on as team members, to the products they will create. More advanced students may go even further and select the topic and nature of the project itself; they can write their own driving question and decide how they want to investigate it, demonstrate what they have learned, and how they will share their work. – adapted from the Buck Institute for Education (
RIGOROUS ACADEMIC DISCOURSE – Students engage in diverse forms of discourse, including peer-to-peer discussion, whole class discussions, or other methods authentic to the academic or professional practice of the discipline. Appropriate forms of communication—presentation, argumentation, listening, analysis, discussion, critique (of peer work)—are intentionally taught, monitored, and cultivated. Academic vocabulary and professional modes of interaction are purposefully incorporated into instruction. By the end of their seven years at Bellevue Big Picture, students are becoming independent practitioners who are able to communicate as mentors to younger students and colleagues to industry professionals. Teachers shift their focus to facilitation and providing expert resources to students as students gain increasing competence. – adapted from Sammamish HS Key Elements
CRITIQUE & REVISION – High quality student work is a hallmark of Gold Standard PBL, and such quality is attained through thoughtful critique and revision. Students should be taught how to give and receive constructive peer feedback that will improve project processes and products, guided by rubrics, models, and formal feedback/critique protocols. In addition to peers and teachers, outside adults and experts can also contribute to the critique process, bringing an authentic, real-world point of view. This common-sense acknowledgement of the importance of making student work and student products better is supported by research on the importance of “formative evaluation, ” which not only means teachers giving feedback to students, but students evaluating the results of their learning. – adapted from the Buck Institute for Education (

PUBLIC PRODUCT – There are three major reasons for creating a public product in Gold Standard PBL – and note that a “product” can be a tangible thing, or it can be a presentation of a solution to a problem or answer to a driving question. First, like authenticity, a public product adds greatly to PBL’s motivating power and encourages high-quality work. Think of what often happens when students make presentations to their classmates and teacher. The stakes are not high, so they may slack off, not take it seriously, and not care as much about the quality of their work. But when students have to present or display their work to an audience beyond the classroom, the performance bar raises, since no one wants to look bad in public. A certain degree of anxiety can be a healthy motivator. But too much anxiety can of course detract from performance – the trick is to find the sweet spot, not the sweat spot – so it’s important that students are well prepared to make their work public.

Second, by creating a product, students make what they have learned tangible and thus, when shared publicly, discussible. Instead of only being a private exchange between an individual student and teacher, the social dimension of learning becomes more important. This has an impact on classroom and school culture, helping create a “learning community,” where students and teachers discuss what is being learned, how it is learned, what are acceptable standards of performance, and how student performance can be made better.

Finally, making student work public is an effective way to communicate with parents, community members, and the wider world about what PBL is and what it does for students. When a classroom, school, or district opens itself up to public scrutiny, the message is, “Here’s what our students can do – we’re about more than test scores.” Many PBL schools and districts reinforce this message by repurposing the traditional “open house” into an exhibition of project work, which helps build understanding and support for PBL among stakeholders. When the public sees what high-quality products students can create, they’re often surprised – and eager to see more. – adapted from the Buck Institute for Education (

REFLECTION – John Dewey, whose ideas continue to inform our thinking about PBL, wrote, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” Throughout a project, students – and the teacher – should reflect on what they’re learning, how they’re learning, and why they’re learning. Reflection can occur informally, as part of classroom culture and dialogue, but should also be an explicit part of project journals, scheduled formative assessment, discussions at project checkpoints, and public presentations of student work. Reflection on the content knowledge and understanding gained helps students solidify what they have learned and think about how it might apply elsewhere, beyond the project. Reflection on success skill development helps students internalize what the skills mean and set goals for further growth. Reflection on the project itself – how it was designed and implemented – helps students decide how they might approach their next project, and helps teachers improve the quality of their PBL practice. – adapted from the Buck Institute for Education (

Rigorous and In-Depth Project Based Learning:

Is organized around an open-ended Driving Question or Challenge. These focus students’ work and deepen their learning by centering on significant issues, debates, questions and/or problems.

Creates a need to know essential content and skills. Typical projects (and most instruction) begin by presenting students with knowledge and concepts and then, once learned, give them the opportunity to apply them. PBL begins with the vision of an end product or presentation which requires learning specific knowledge and concepts, thus creating a context and reason to learn and understand the information and concepts.

Requires inquiry to learn and/or create something new. Not all learning has to be based on inquiry, but some should. And this inquiry should lead students to construct something new – an idea, an interpretation, a new way of displaying what they have learned.

Requires critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication. Students need to do much more than remember information—they need to use higher-order thinking skills. They also have to learn to work as a team and contribute to a group effort. They must listen to others and make their own ideas clear when speaking, be able to read a variety of material, write or otherwise express themselves in various modes, and make effective presentations. These skills, competencies and habits of mind are often known as “21st Century Skills”.

Allows some degree of student voice and choice. Students learn to work independently and take responsibility when they are asked to make choices. The opportunity to make choices, and to express their learning in their own voice, also helps to increase students’ educational engagement.

Incorporates feedback and revision. Students use peer critique to improve their work to create higher quality products. The focus shifts to improving their work rather than just getting the right answer.

Results in a publicly presented product or performance. In most of the real adult world what you know is demonstrated by what you do, and what you do is frequently open to public scrutiny and critique. Giving students the opportunity to practice this skill of communication is essential for success after school.

The Bellevue School District acknowledges that we learn, work, live and gather on the Indigenous Land of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Tribes. We thank these caretakers of this land, who have lived and continue to live here, since time immemorial.