In studying the three PBL exemplars, “More Fun Than a Barrel of…Worms?,” “March of the Monarchs: Students Follow the Butterflies’ Migration,” both by Diane Curtis and “Geometry Students Angle into Architecture Through Project Learning,” by Sara Armstrong all accessed from Edutopia, there are many commonalities. All three exemplars begin by discussing student inquiry and collaboration. Additionally, each piece touches on the importance of feedback from individuals outside of the school and the necessity of communication with outside experts as part of each project. While they do differ slightly in some of the finer nuances of their PBL experiences they generally agree that field trips and field experience must also be included in a successful project.


In all three cases, the majority of the work is student driven and based on collaboration. The teacher steps back into the role of guide or facilitator as the students move the learning forward. This creates more opportunities for student choice than “traditional” learning experiences and, therefore increases student engagement many times over. When students feel they have not only a say in the process but also a stake in the final outcome, they become engaged in learning is ways studying from a textbook simply cannot allow. Because these learning experiences are rooted in doing rather than passive listening the acquisition of skills and synthesis of content-based knowledge in unrivaled. Through these projects, students have learned by doing and there is absolutely no substitution for the deep learning that takes place.


Technology is used in all projects across the exemplars for research purposes. In Diane Curtis’ piece on the monarch butterfly inquiry technology is used heavily as a means of collaboration both with peers and experts across the globe. In Curtis’ other article regarding the projects at Newsome Park Elementary, students rely heavily on their available technology for research and also in the production of their end presentations. In Armstrong’s piece, students involved in the intensive architecture project use their technology for planning and implementing their designs.


Nearly all of the projects present come close to the Gold Standard for Project Based Learning, but none meet it perfectly. The Newsome park projects lack some of the public/community feedback necessary. They do invite parents to view projects and presentations but this doesn’t quite fit the bill of a true public source of feedback. The monarch butterfly project involves the least amount of student choice. The is some student choice involved, but not nearly enough to meet the Gold Standard. The architecture project is somewhat lacking in the aspect of authenticity. Yes, there are real world architects involved in the process, but the students are planning for a school that will never and can never be built.



“More Fun Than a Barrel of . . . Worms?!” – Diane Curtis, Edutopia

“Geometry Students Angle into Architecture Through Project Learning” – Sara Armstrong, Edutopia

“March of the Monarchs: Students Follow the Butterflies’ Migration”
– Diane Curtis, Edutopia


“Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements” – John Larmer and John R. Mergendoller