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Edtech Solutions
Network Summit
Edtech Advocacy &
Policy Summit

Anatomy of Effective Digital-Age Projects: Designing for Equity, Inquiry, Literacy

Participate and share

Participate and share : Interactive lecture

Sunday, November 29, 10:15–11:00 am PST (Pacific Standard Time)

Suzie Boss  
Myla Lee  

From project launch until final showcase, decisions about project design, technology integration, and student choice shape the quality of the learning experience--both in person and via remote learning. We will analyze the anatomy of effective projects, emphasizing opportunities to amplify inquiry, equity and digital-age literacies in PBL.

Audience: Coaches, Teachers, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Smartphone: Windows, Android, iOS
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Topic: Project-, problem- & challenge-based learning
Grade level: PK-12
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.
  • Foster a culture where students take ownership of their learning goals and outcomes in both independent and group settings.
For Students:
Knowledge Constructor
  • Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions.
Additional detail: ISTE author presentation, Session recorded for video-on-demand

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

PBL offers a powerful approach to learning, whether it's happening face-to-face or via remote or blended learning. When done well, PBL leads to deep understanding of academic content and mastery of 21st century skills that students will need in college, careers, and as active citizens. For students who are at risk of being disengaged or who have not experienced a voice in their own learning, PBL can be transformational (Larmer, Mergendoller, & Boss, 2015; Jaquith & Zielezinski, 2018).
Yet we also know from experience--having coached hundreds of teachers, doing PBL with diverse learners, and researching best practices--that not all projects reach this potential.
This session will help teachers focus on key design decisions that influence the effectiveness of PBL. Along with the ISTE Standards, two models inform our definition of effectiveness: Gold Standard PBL defined by PBLWorks and High-Quality PBL developed by the Deeper Learning Network.
With these models as our foundation, we will emphasize opportunities to turn up the inquiry, equity, and development of students' digital-age literacies by looking across the arc of effective projects.
Along the way, we will tackle PBL myths that deserve debunking--and which can limit students' access to meaningful project experiences. For example, a common misunderstanding is that teachers need to front-load or pre-teach content before students are capable of engaging in PBL. Teachers who hold this belief may say, "My students aren't ready for this because of...[limited English proficiency, poor behavior, low academic performance, lack of technology fluency, etc.]."
Instead of front-loading content through direct instruction, teachers are better off building the culture of inquiry that PBL demands (Boss & Larmer, 2018; Boss & Krauss, 2018). Tuning into students' interests, questions, and concerns leads to more engaging projects and gives students a voice in their learning from the outset. We will suggest digital tools that are useful for taking interest inventories, along with strategies like peer-to-peer interviews that scaffold students' inquiry skills while building a culture of collaboration.
Using case studies of successful digital-age projects, we will show how teachers can fine-tune project plans to build digital literacy across content areas. For example, we will analyze the teaching strategies that led students from a small rural community to win the first-ever NPR Podcast Challenge (Boss, 2019). More examples will demonstrate how the right scaffolding enables English learners to succeed with digital-age PBL, and how the high expectations that come with PBL encourage students to stretch academically to meet their own goals.
Participants will come away with strategies to:
--Emphasize digital literacy in projects across content areas and grade levels;
--Cultivate a culture of inquiry that amplifies student voice;
--Support student success with appropriate scaffolding (without encouraging "learned helplessness);
--Integrate digital tools that enable students to be content creators and problem solvers.


Entry event: As participants arrive, they will take part in a virtual entry event that uses a digital tool (such as Padlet or PollEverywhere) to surface audience questions about PBL. (5 min.)
Introduction: Presenters will provide context about high-quality PBL and challenge common misunderstandings that have limited some students' access to meaningful, student-centered learning. (10 min.)
Case studies: Facilitators will lead participants through an analysis of several short examples and video clips that show how teachers have strategically amplified inquiry, equity, and digital-age literacy through PBL. (30 min.)
Connections: Participants will connect PBL strategies to their own practice. Using a Google Doc, they will collaborate to brainstorm possible tools and strategies that will address specific challenges they face. (10 min.)
Questions: Time at the end will allow for Q&A (in chat) and reflection via Twitter. (5 min.)

Supporting research

A large body of research supports the benefits of PBL to engage diverse learners. Some of the key research and resources that will inform our session include:

Boss, S., and Krauss, J. (2018). Reinventing project-based learning: Your field guide to real world projects for the digital age, 3rd Ed. Eugene, OR: ISTE.

Boss, S. with Larmer, J. (2018). Project based teaching: How to create rigorous and engaging learning experiences. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Jaquith, A., and Zielezinski, M. (2018, Nov.). Evaluating deeper learning: Retrospect and prospect. SCOPE Research Brief. Stanford, CA: Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education.

Larmer, J., Mergendoller, J., and Boss, S. (2015). Setting the standard for project based learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Lee, M. (2019, June). PBL and inclusive literacy: The freedom of student voice. PBLWorks blog. Downloaded from

Lee, M. (2018, Sept.). PBL and literacy: A perfect match for elementary schools. PBLWorks blog. Retrieved from

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Suzie Boss, PBLWorks National Faculty emeritus

Suzie Boss is a writer and educational consultant from Portland, Oregon, who focuses on the power of teaching and learning to improve lives and transform communities. She’s the author of 10 popular books for educators, most recently Project-Based Teaching: How to Create Rigorous and Engaging Learning Experiences and Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age, 3rd Ed. She collaborated with award-winning teacher Stephen Ritz to tell his inspiring story about classroom innovation in The Power of a Plant. A regular contributor to Edutopia, member of the PBLWorks National Faculty and frequent conference presenter, she consults with schools and nonprofit organizations worldwide that are interested in shifting to a more student-centered, innovative approach to teaching and learning. Her work has taken her to nearly every continent, reflecting the increasing global interest in real-world learning enabled by digital tools.

Myla Lee, PBLWorks National Faculty

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