Gold Standard PBL

Our latest PLT focus has been a collective study of the book Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning. We were split into ‘Expert Groups’ for our Monday after school PD sessions and then worked in a jigsaw type fashion to piece together our notes with our original PLT groups. The text itself, written by John Larmer, John Mergendoller and Suzie Boss, explores various aspects of the research, planning and implementation of Project Based Learning. The authors pose interesting questions and present relevant information about the purpose of PBL, research and evidence into why it works and how to successfully implement it in the classroom.


Like I’ve said in previous posts, as teachers we need to consider ourselves as facilitators of learning but also as life-long learners ourselves. This means that we should be constantly seeking out new strategies, research and methods to refine our craft and become the best possible teachers for our students. Part of this is keeping up to date with current research and professional discussion within the education community but I also enjoy talking with colleagues and visiting various classes to investigate alternative methods and observing different teaching styles that may inspire my own practice.

By reading parts of Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning I had the opportunity to learn new things from experts in the field as well as have parts of my current teaching practices validated and reinforced by many of the comments made by the authors. As indicated by the title of the book, the main contention was to establish what ‘gold standard’ PBL looks like. They define ‘gold standard’ as:

“Gold Standard PBL blends them into a pedagogy that combines the best practices of each as reflected in current research, theory, and the experience of the many expert teachers we worth with and learn from each year”


One of the first points established in the book is that there are “differences between the Gold Standard ideal and the reality of typical PBL classroom practice”. They go on to say that “Gold Standard PBL is meant to be an aspirational goal, a composite of the best research-based and classroom-proven project design elements and instructional practices”. That is to say that the information outlined in the book is meant as a guide and a goal to work toward while teaching PBL. Many helpful tips, scaffolds and examples are presented in the book to act as a starting point for beginning teachers and those looking to improve.

Two areas that we focused on in our PLT sessions were Chapter 4: Designing a Project and Chapter 5: Managing a Project.

Designing a Project

Obviously one of the most important parts of a successful project is the design process. The aspects of this chapter that I found most interesting discussed the possibilities of real world or adult connections- particularly when it comes to the summative task. Several different options are presented for teachers to consider when making the projects ‘public’ or involving external factors or exhibition. Some suggestions include:

  • Put it to use in the real world
  • Give presentations to an audience, live or online
  • Conduct an event
  • Display it in a public space
  • Publish it, post it or send it to someone

All of these options were highly relevant to me at the time as I was working with my Year 9 classes to create WWII museum exhibitions to go on display during parent teacher interviews. It was interesting to read about options that I hadn’t previously considered.

Managing a Project

I liked that this complex process was broken down into smaller, more manageable phases in the book. As an early career PBL teacher I can understand how some may find the whole idea of PBL and managing a project quite daunting, this ‘project path’ maps out the process and indicates the role of the student and teacher quite clearly.

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 1.01.28 pm

Overall, our PLT in Term Two was quite successful but I would like to read the remainder of Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning so I can keep learning and improving my practice.


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