Are You Ready to Design Rigorous PBL?


By Andrew Miller

2016 ASCD Conference on Teaching Excellence: Designing Project-Based Learning Activities for Rigorous LearningI am very excited about my upcoming session at the ASCD Conference on Teaching Excellence called “Designing Project-Based Learning Activities for Rigorous Learning.” I’ve spent years designing projects, visiting innovative project-based learning (PBL) schools, collaborating with experts, and reflecting on the effects of PBL on student learning. However, this session allows me the unique opportunity to synthesize what I have seen, heard, and learned over the years and share what I believe are critical components of effective PBL design and implementation.

Begin with the End in Mind

PBL can be a rich, meaningful learning experience, but only if we begin with the end in mind. This, of course, is nothing new for educators, but it is a great reminder of what we need to keep at the forefront of the project—student learning. The exciting part here is that the sky is the limit. Students can learn not only content from courses and standards but also from meaningful transfer goals that ensure they are independent thinkers and learners. My session will help educators align projects to standards and design transfer goals as identified in the Understanding by Design® framework.

Assessment Is Key

Assessment will be at the forefront of this session on PBL. We know that formative assessment is key to using our time effectively to meet the needs of all students. The same is true in the context of PBL. When implementing PBL, we can assess skills, content knowledge, transfer goals, and enduring understandings. During my session, we will align the principles of formative and summative assessment to our projects and map assessments so that we can differentiate and allow for student voice and choice in how they show what they learn in the PBL process. We will also discuss how feedback can make or break a project and how to use it to avoid “learned helplessness.” I firmly believe that, in general, we need to assess more and grade less. Doing so allows PBL to promote a growth mindset.

Let’s Design Together

All participants will walk out with a planned project for implementation. If you are a principal, instructional coach, superintendent, or any kind of school leader, you will also be expected to participate the design process. It is critical that we all learn the challenges of implementing and designing projects so collaboration and feedback will be part of the process. During my session, we will model the components of PBL so you can learn about it in depth.

You can expect an interactive, thoughtful, and practical session. I look forward to working and learning from those who attend!

Learn more about the conference and get registration information here. And don’t forget to connect with fellow attendees and presenters by using #ASCDCTE16 on Twitter!


Andrew Miller is the author of the ASCD Arias publication Freedom to Fail: How do I foster risk-taking and innovation in my classroom? He is on the national faculty for the Buck Institute for Education, an organization specializing in 21st century project-based learning. Miller is also an ASCD Faculty member, providing expertise in a variety of professional development needs, and a regular blogger for Edutopia. Connect with Miller on Twitter @betamiller.