• Help teachers and other educators and other community stakeholders better understand Project-Based Learning, project management, and 21st Century Learning, as well as their value as keys to educational success.
  • Better understand how project managers can add value as volunteers working with administrators, teachers, and students inside and outside the classroom.




Project-Based Learning, or using “learning projects” as a part of formal education, has proven to be an excellent approach to helping students build the learning and innovation, digital literacy, and career and life skills that are increasingly recognized as essential to work and life today. Learning projects are sequences of learning experiences that give students lots of opportunities to practice and improve all of their skills, while engaging in meaningful, real-world work that addresses compelling questions and problems.

However, not all projects are equal, and not all will serve as effective “learning projects.” Fortunately, practitioners have developed a set of typical characteristics for well-designed projects, and several expert organizations maintain lists of proven projects that they make available to the public.


Tablet learning

When evaluating and selecting possible learning projects, keep in mind the features considered essential for a well-designed, effective learning project:

  1. Project outcomes are tied to curriculum and learning goals.
  2. Driving challenges lead students to the central concepts or principles of the topic or subject area.
  3. Student investigations and research involve inquiry, problem-solving, and knowledge building.
  4. Students are responsible for designing and managing much of their own learning.
  5. Projects are based on authentic, real-world problems and questions that students care about.
  6. The learning project is designed to help students build 21st Century competencies.
  7. Students receive feedback at each stage on the status of the project and quality of their work.
  8. Students publicly share their knowledge through demonstrating a product and/or a presentation.


Following are brief descriptions of a few projects drawn from the BIE database that will give a sense of the flavor and diversity of well-designed projects:

Designing Better Nutrition: This interdisciplinary visual design project brings together topics from government, English, health and digital design for real world analysis. Students study the effects of food choices on personal health, the environment, the economy and the influence of marketing and packaging on those choices. Students learn that what they eat not only affects their health, but the health of the world. Partners from the design and health care field coach students as they develop and design their food package.

The Hunger Games Challenge – Avoiding the Path to Panem: How did North America become Panem, the post-apocalyptic world of The Hunger Games? How can we avoid a similar path in our world? ConnectEd Studios and Educurious have joined forces to create an exciting project that applies the The Hunger Games premise to real-world dilemmas. Fully loaded, the project contains Common Core aligned lesson plans, media resources, and performance tasks, ready to be deployed by educators. It’s all available on ConnectEd Studios.

The Greater Good: Economic leaders from two island nations pursue trade possibilities by analyzing data on production and discovering the benefits of specialization. After a trade agreement is negotiated, the leaders of the islands must justify their actions in the face of protests against job loss and environmental damage. Topics include absolute and comparative advantage, exports/imports, free trade, protectionism, scarcity, tradeoff, and opportunity cost.

Improving Transit Access, Opportunity and Equity for Riders in Oakland: As a primary group of “non choice” riders, students are important stakeholders who rely daily on public transportation to go to and from school, home, internships, and other extracurricular activities. 11th grade students from MetWest’s junior class researched solutions to improve bus service for their client, AC Transit, the public transit agency serving the San Francisco Bay Area’s Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Teen-S-Team-Plus “Pathways to Success” Anti-Bullying and Project Management Skills Program: Students participating in the program, in Elk Grove, California, conducted in partnership with the PMI Sacramento Valley Chapter and PMIEF, develop and present an anti-bullying program to their school and then pass it forward to a middle school and implement it there. See their video: “Unbullyable”

The Ultimate Design Challenge: The world is filled with design challenges. Some of these challenges are environmental because of the disposal of them. Some are due to functionality for the consumer, business or transportation. Students take on the role of designers. They work to create a new and improved container of their choice that resolves a current problem (environmental, financial or function). Students connect these designs to mathematical models. They use these models to improve the design of the containers.

Wind Turbine Design and Build: One class at the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology at Hartford High School in Connecticut worked with a utilities expert and neighboring corporate partner United Technologies to design and build a solar-powered wind turbine that would generate electricity for a rural school in Saldang, Nepal.

There are many other resources available where teachers and project managers can find learning projects that have been thoughtfully designed and implemented before. For example, the Buck Institute for Education (BIE) has more than 500 tested learning projects in its database alone (Project Search). See the Toolkit resource document “Helpful Project-Based Learning Resources for Educators” for several other relevant website addresses.


The key messages above offer a very brief primer on project management and PBL, alongside a set of persuasive facts and statements about the value of PBL. Since they use language familiar to educators, they will be very useful in explaining the concepts and benefits of these frameworks to that essential audience. Also in the Toolkit is a separate document, “Helpful Project-Based Learning Resources for Educators,” that lists a set of resources where educators to learn more about these concepts and which can be shared directly with educational and other contacts.

Project Management Toolkit for Teachers. Project Management Institute Educational Foundation, 2013.

21st Century Skills Map – Project Management for Learning. Partnership for 21st Century Learning and Project Management Institute Educational Foundation, 2014.

National Academy Foundation Guide to Work-Based Learning: A Continuum of Activities and Experience, 2011.

“PBL and Common Core – and Next Generation Science Standards”. Resources, Buck Institute for Education, 2013. [excerpt from PBL for 21st Century Success: Teaching Critical !inking, Collaboration, Communication, and Creativity, Buck Institute for Education, 2013.]

“Project-Based Learning and Common Core Standards”. Thom Markham, The Whole Child Blog, February 21, 2012. www.wholechildeducation.org/blog/project-based-learning-and-common-core-standards

“8 Essentials for Project-Based Learning”. John Larmer and John R. Mergendoller, Buck Institute for Education, 2012.

“Project-Based Learning: Engagement, Rigor, and Relevance”, multimedia presentation. John Larmer, National Academy Foundation, 2011. naf.org/resources/project-based-learning-engagement-rigor-and-relevance