The 8 Elements Project-Based Learning Must Have

Posted by Ryan Schaaf on

“Jeff Dunn at Edudemic provides a wonderful checklist from the Buck Institute for Education on the essential elements of project-based learning. If you are interested in a free project-based learning curriculum, then please visit the Fluency21 Unit Planner for more details.”


via Edudemic

If you’re contemplating using Project-Based Learning or are already trying out the latest craze to hit the modern classroom, you should know about this checklist. It details if you’re actually doing it correctly. For example, does your project focus on significant content, develop 21st century skills, and engage students in in-depth inquirty (just to name a few)? If not, you might want to reconsider your PBL approach.

See Also:  What Is Project-Based Learning?

The checklist is by the PBL masters over at BIE and they’ve outlined 8 different ‘essential elements’ that must be present in a project in order for it to be considered PBL. While you may agree, disagree, or think there should be some additional elements, this checklist is phenomenal.

These elements are actually useful for even more than PBL. In fact, I’d say that it’s extremely important to make sure ANY lesson helps develop 21st century skills, organizes tasks around a driving question, and encourages voice and choice. Along with the other handful of key features too.

What do you think about this PBL Checklist? I personally find it broad enough to be useful and precise enough to make sense. Do you think it’s lacking or perfect? Would love to hear your input!


Via TeachBytes and



  1. Michael McAdam

    This is a great checklist. However, anything referred to as an educational “craze” makes me think that as a trend it might be a case of here today, gone tomorrow. I’ve been in education long enough to see the “trend” wheel come around full circle at least a couple of times. On the other hand, anything that gets students engaged in their own learning is worth a try!

  2. ryanlschaaf

    Hi Michael and thanks for commenting. I am always wary of these educational ‘fads’, but project-based learning will stand the test of time. If we imagine how a great deal of the workforce now functions – working on projects, solving problems, collaborating, sharing goals, etc., then the need for PBL becomes at bit more apparent.

  3. Anita Garnsworthy

    I agree, a great checklist. I particularly like that you include teaching and assessing 21st century skills and having an authentic audience.

  4. ryanlschaaf

    Thank you Anita. The criteria in this chart is spectacular. I do feel it would work better as a rubric instead of a checklist, but it has the substance. Take care and keep reading/commenting!

  5. fotondoc

    But we still need innovative bust out leaders not just sheep

  6. ryanlschaaf

    Agreed – effective leadership is key for the future of education. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Michelle

    I like the checklist – I think it’s a very clear, well worded summary/snapshot of the elements. I find the introductory sentence at the top very unfriendly, though. I get it that too many people [wrongly] think they do PBL because they “do projects,” and we want to be clear about what PBL is, but the whole “must meet these Essential Elements” is a real turn off. PBL is hard, but we don’t want to make it seem so hard that no one can actually do it. Maybe there’s some way of encouraging people to include as many elements as they can initially, and work up to all of them. Also, calling PBL the “latest craze” is really not correct – BIE has been doing this work for at least 15 years.

  8. Ryan Schaaf

    Hi Michelle! Thank you for taking the time to reply. I do admit the language is a bit authoritative at the top – perhaps they are being a bit too prescriptive. PBL has been around for sometime, but it is all about perspective. A great deal of trends are cyclical in education. However, I think the message is clear. Education needs effective PBL in the classroom and the essential elements provides a great resource to utilize when creating or evaluating PBL experiences.

  9. Ambar Mitra

    “21st Century Skill” has become an eye-catching buzzword. Critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, communication have been essential skills even at the time of Aristotle.

  10. Ryan Schaaf

    Thank you Ambar. An interesting connection to Aristotle and the essential skills of the 21st century – two amazing civilizations with similar societal needs.

  11. Ambar Mitra

    Engaging students in classroom –
    The NCAD idea follows the eight items listed here. Is it possible to combine/condense?
    Maybe even we need a clear definition of “critical thinking” in terms of abilities that are developed. Polya comes to mid!!

  12. ryanlschaaf

    Thank you Ambar for the resource. I think teachers have plenty of frameworks, resources, and theories to consider. I am really fascinated by classroom application and ‘seeing’ it in action.

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What do you think?