PBL is not Project Oriented Learning

Many people confuse project-based learning with project oriented learning. I like how this High Tech High video explains the difference:

Main Point

Doing a project at the end of a unit is project oriented learning, and that is not project-based learning.

What is PBL?

Project-Based Learning is authentic learning that is focused on answering an essential question (or driving question).

This High Tech High video has a great tip for PBL, which is do the project yourself before giving it to the class.

Final Remarks
  • What tips can you share about discerning between PBL and project oriented learning? 
  • When is project oriented learning valuable? - And how can you portray that it's not PBL? 
  • What tips can you share about Project-Based Learning?
My post was inspired by 21k12's post on What PBL Isn't, and What it Is: 2 Videos by High Tech High.


    1. I have struggled with this concept when it pertains to reading. I can come up with PBL for writing with no issues. I've come to the realization that I need to reorganize my brain. My old prejudices about teaching literature need to be removed and I need to move forward. It is a baby step process, but I'm loving the challenge of it!

    2. Hi Elizabeth!

      I think it's natural to make the connections to PBL with some areas easier than others. But, as time goes on it starts to become easier because it becomes more part of who you are and how you do things -- and it's because of the impact it has on the learners. They thrive in PBL and authenticity.

      Do you think it was possibly easier for making the authentic connections with writing because you saw the direct connections to the real world? For example, 2 years ago you had your class write persuasive essays/PSAs about helping Haitian earthquake survivors. As I recall, your class raised money and donated it to Red Cross. -- You easily made that real life connection of how writing (and persuasive technique) could be used in the real world. -- However, in the case of literature, are your books from a previous era thus making it difficult to find some of those real world connections?

      Nevertheless, I am happy that you want to give PBL a try from the literary side of your content!

      Kind regards,

    3. These two videos hit the nail on the head. "Do the project First" is some of the best advice I have heard.

      One step I would recommend in Project or Problem based learning is having class discussions throughout the project about the solving process so students can learn from each others successes and failures. I hastily implemented problem-based learning in my classroom last year and skipped this step and it was a train wreck.

    4. Hi Jamie,

      Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment! I completely agree with your tip of class discussions throughout the process. Building in discussion to promote collaboration, problem solving, and reflection is part of the recipe for success with PBL. With that said, I think it took me a while to figure that out. Those discussion times, where my role was primarily that of facilitator, were the daily hook to get us digging deeper in the learning.

      What subject/grade do you teach?

      Kind regards,

    5. Tracy,
      Your statement,"I think it took me a while to figure that out." does give me some anxiety for this upcoming school year. I teach Algebra 1 for 9th graders and Algebra 2 for 11th grade in a performing arts HS. I have acted in the role of facilitator for many years for outdoor teaming building and challenge activities for middle school and high school aged girls. I'm hoping I can use these skills more effectively this year.

      Thanks for your support.

    6. Hi Jaime,

      When I started down the PBL road, it was just starting to be discussed in Ed circles that I was aware of (late '90s). When I got my Master's in 2003, there was only a brief mention of it with "Understanding by Design." So, I felt like I was on my own. There were others out there, I just didn't know how to connect with them and I hadn't realized that PBL was where my teaching was going.

      For my Master's, I focused on incorporating the Multiple Intelligences in learning (number sense), which took me to Bloom's taxonomy... Which placed me on the path of constructivism... Hence the path of PBL. It just all fit together and was a natural progression because the students were learning more, and the data was backing it up.

      You are way ahead of where I was because of your comfort with facilitation. Like I mentioned, I didn't know where to look when I was starting down this path, while nowadays there are so many more resources and supports. You are already building a PLN for supporting your efforts in PBL. This is a huge thing, because you'll have people to bounce ideas around with. Hopefully your school will also be a valuable part of your PLN.

      Have you found other algebra teachers interested in PBL (problem or project based) to share resources/ideas with?

      Kind regards,


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