Taking PBL From Good to Great: Aim for Impact With Authentic Challenges

Change display time — Currently: Central Daylight Time (CDT) (Event time)
Location: Room 275-6
Experience live: All-Access Package Year-Round PD Package Virtual Lite
Watch recording: All-Access Package Year-Round PD Package Virtual Lite

Participate and share : Interactive session

Suzie Boss  
Alex Campbell  

Increased understanding of PBL fundamentals has helped this instructional approach take hold globally. This session will help you take projects beyond the basics — from good to great learning. A veteran PBL practitioner and a global PBL expert team up to offer compelling examples backed by research about PBL effectiveness.

Audience: Coaches, Teachers, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices useful
Attendee device specification: Smartphone: Android, iOS, Windows
Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Windows, Android, iOS
Participant accounts, software and other materials: Presenters will share resources via a Google site (tbd) that participants can use during and after the session. No software or logins will be required. Participants will be encouraged to share their takeaways and next steps via social media to grow the community of practice committed to great PBL.
Topic: Project-, problem- & challenge-based learning
Grade level: PK-12
Subject area: Language arts, Social studies
ISTE Standards: For Coaches:
Learning Designer
  • Collaborate with educators to develop authentic, active learning experiences that foster student agency, deepen content mastery and allow students to demonstrate their competency.
For Educators:
  • Create experiences for learners to make positive, socially responsible contributions and exhibit empathetic behavior online that build relationships and community.
  • Design authentic learning activities that align with content area standards and use digital tools and resources to maximize active, deep learning.
Additional detail: ISTE author presentation

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

Global adoption of project-based learning has continued to grow, despite the challenges raised by the pandemic. An expanding research base underscores the benefits to learners, specifically when projects are designed with attention to widely recognized best practices. Nonetheless, many educators need time and ongoing professional learning to make the shift from teacher-centered to student-centered learning. Teachers who are new to PBL may hesitate to tackle projects that do not fit neatly into traditional content silos, that require collaboration with experts or partners beyond the classroom, or that require nontraditional approaches to assessment. This session aims to inspire and support educators to push beyond the basics with project-based learning enabled by technology. Plentiful examples, research insights, assessment tools, and reflection prompts will help participants envision how they can help students tackle more authentic challenges that align to learning goals and potentially deliver impact for their communities or even the wider world. By anticipating common challenges and gaining access to session resources, participants will be better prepared to facilitate interdisciplinary projects in authentic contexts, such as sustainability, invention, and social justice. They will acquire strategies to connect students with partners, experts, and audiences, both in their own communities and virtually. They will build their toolkit of formative assessment strategies enabled by technology Evidence of success will be a commitment by participants to share their own stories and reflections (via blogs, social media, or public exhibitions) about shifting from “good to great” with PBL. A session hashtag (#goodtogreatPBL) will connect participants as community of practice committed to transformational learning for all students.


Content: After an interactive entry event, session will begin with a brief overview of PBL fundamentals and research about effectiveness to ensure common understanding. The focus will then shift to examples of projects that aim for greater impact by focusing on authentic challenges and connecting students with experts, partners, and audiences via digital tools. Interactive activities will challenge participants to assess projects for authenticity and impact, and plan their next steps to take PBL from good to great.
Suggested agenda and process:
Entry event: 5 min., using digital survey tool to engage participants and surface questions
Foundation: 10 min., multimedia mini-lesson to build common understanding
Good to great examples: 10 min., combination of storytelling and audience response via backchannel
Increasing authenticity: 10 min.; tools to design for authenticity (ISTE for educators 5b; ISTE for coaches 4a); participants engage in self-assessment and reflection in small groups
Increasing impact: 10 min.; tools to design for impact and reflect on teacher’s role as citizen (ISTE for educators 3a); participants engage in self-assessment and reflection in small groups
Next steps: 10 min.; plan next steps and share out via hashtag (#goodtogreatPBL)
Q&A and closing: 5 min.

Supporting research

A sizeable and growing body of research underscores key design elements for high-quality project-based learning and indicates positive and equitable student outcomes when projects are facilitated with attention to best practices. Many resources will inform our session, including books and articles written by one of the presenters. Supporting research includes:
Anderson, S. (2017). Bringing school to life: Place-based education across the curriculum. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Boss, S. (2019, Aug. 6). Podcasting creates an audience for student storytellers. Edutopia. (Note: This article focuses on an award-winning project designed and facilitated by session co-presenter Alex Campbell.)
Boss, S., & Krauss, J. (2018) Reinventing project-based learning: Your Field Guide to real-world projects for the digital age, 3rd ed. Eugene, OR: ISTE. (Note: Translation recently published in China.)
Boss, S., with Larmer, J. (2018). Project based teaching: How to create rigorous and engaging learning experiences. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. (Note: Translations recently published in China and Chile.)
Jaquith, A., & Zilezinski, M. (2018, Nov. 21). Evaluating deeper learning: Retrospect and prospect. SCOPE Research Brief. Stanford, CA: Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education. Download from
Larmer, J., Mergendoller, J., & Boss, S. (2015). Setting the standard for project based learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Terada, Y. (2021, Feb. 21). New research makes a powerful case for PBL. Edutopia.

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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 Redefining Student Success: Building a New Vision to Transform Leading, Teaching, and Learning. Her ISTE bestseller Reinventing Project-Based Learning, 3rd Ed., was recently published in China. A regular contributor to Edutopia, PBLWorks National Faculty emeritus, and frequent conference presenter, she consults with schools and nonprofit organizations worldwide that are shifting to a more student-centered, innovative approach to digital-age teaching and learning.

Alex Campbell, Elizabethton High School

Alex Campbell is a multi-time Teacher of the Year who lives with his family in Northeast Tennessee. He is well regarded as a creative and innovative teacher that emphasizes connections between people. Campbell has pushed the boundaries of schooling only to find that he has upset the traditional architecture of the public school world. Despite these obstacles, he perseveres to do what young people need. His students find serial killers, get people out of prison, teach convicts to read, conduct memorial services, etc. He published his first book, Ten Lessons That Will Get You Fired in 2016.

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