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All About Gold Standard PBL: A Teacher’s Guide to the PBLWorks Project-Based Learning Framework

Project-based learning is an approach to teaching and learning where students actively explore real-world problems and challenges through projects. 

Teachers are viewed as coaches that provide a structure or framework to guide students through the learning process. But the learning comes from the students. The learning is student-centered and prioritizes student voice and choice. 

Rather than a series of one-off projects, project-based learning units usually occur over the course of several days or weeks and result in a summative project that reflects student learning. 

More specifically, PBL allows students to:

  • Develop and explore questions and problems
  • Conduct their own research
  • Make connections with experts in a specific subject matter
  • Create final products to share with the class or greater community

Project-based learning consists of lessons that are: grounded in standards, student-centered, and authentic to students, the school, or larger community.

What is Gold Standard PBL?

PBLWorks is an organization that provides services, tools, and research “designed to build the capacity of K-12 teachers to design and facilitate quality Project Based Learning” (About PBLWorks). 

PBLWorks developed a research-informed framework for PBL, called Gold Standard PBL, to help teachers, schools, and organizations implement high-quality PBL. This framework is the focus of this blog post. 

While there are a number of great PBL frameworks or structures out there, I gravitate towards the Gold Standard PBL model from PBLWorks.

I like this framework because it provides teachers with the appropriate amount of structure and guidance to do PBL really well. At the same time, the framework also allows for flexibility and ease of use across grade levels and subject areas. 

Gold Standard PBL prioritizes learning goals, including “students’ acquiring key knowledge, understanding, and success skills” (Gold Standard PBL from PBLWorks).

Gold Standard PBL also consists of seven essential project design elements: (1) challenging problem or question, (2) sustained inquiry, (3) authenticity, (4) student voice and choice, (5) reflection, (6) critique and revision, and (7) public product. 

The ideas in the following section are inspired by the Gold Standard PBL from PBLWorks which you can access on their website here.

1. Challenging Problem or Question

This design element is also sometimes called a “need to know.”

High-quality projects are framed with a meaningful problem to be solved or a question to answer.

In some instances, like a Genius Hour or a self-guided project, students might form their own essential questions that will drive their project and research.

In most instances, teachers help guide students to discovering the challenging problem or question that the project will then seek to address. 

2. Sustained Inquiry

Sustained inquiry is a process in which students ask questions, find possible resources, and apply their learning to the driving question. Sustained inquiry, in many projects, is closely tied to the research stage. 

3. Authenticity

Authenticity, in my mind, is the most important ingredient of Gold Standard PBL. High-quality projects exist within real-world context. The problems are authentic and even meaningful to students’ lives.

4. Student Voice and Choice

Students are able to make some decisions about the project, allowing them to have both voice and choice. This means that students might be able to choose how they work and what they create. This also might mean that students can express their own ideas in their own voice.

5. Reflection

Students learn so much from reflecting on their learning. Reflection happens at the end of a project, but also throughout the project process.

6. Critique and Revision

Students and teachers give and receive feedback, as well as apply their learning from that feedback to improve their public products.

7. Public Product

In a project, students create and share a public product for the school or greater community. Oftentimes, public products are presented beyond the classroom and into the greater community. 

Why Gold Standard PBL?

These seven essential design elements provide a framework for developing and improving PBL in the classroom. In my own practice, I find this researched-informed framework to be helpful in guiding me to create rich, authentic, standards-aligned projects. 

Gold Standard PBL not only prioritizes learning goals and standards, but also focuses on skill-building, like critical thinking, communication, problem-solving, collaboration, and project management.

Thank You!

If you are interested in learning more or receiving formal training in this model, “PBLWorks offers a variety of workshops, courses and services for teachers, school and district leaders, and instructional coaches to get started and advance their practice with Project Based Learning” (Learn More).

Do you use the Gold Standard PBL model? Let me know! I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at, DM me on Instagram @edtechclass, or leave a comment below.


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