The #1 Curriculum and Assessment Partner for Educators



We as teachers often get caught up in an alphabet soup of acronyms and instructional labels.  Sifting through these and using them appropriately becomes second nature, but what happens when we are faced with a desperate need to engage our learners, what acronym makes sense?  Consider PBL and PBJ.

PBL is an abbreviation for Project Based Learning.   PBL is not new; it is the process in which students ask a question, discuss a process to identify the answer, and follow that process to its eventual solution.  “PBL emphasizes innovation and creativity, critical thinking skills, cooperation, collaboration and communication” (Squidoo

In the last century (when I was in school-yes, I am old), we discussed the Inquiry Method of instruction.  When my father was a student, it was about creating a ‘need to know’.  Going further back to the turn of the last century, John Dewey supported ‘learning by doing’ when creating the Dewey Decimal system.   So let’s not dress this acronym up in too fancy a set of pants.   PBJ, however, is a sandwich and should not be confused with PBL.

PBL has been getting the much needed attention it deserves.  PBJ has been appreciated by five-  year olds everywhere, as long as you cut off the crust.

Many educational leaders champion Project Based Learning as a best of instructional practice (Barell, 2010; Baron, 2011; Cole and Washurn-Moses, 2010; Larmer and Mergendoller, 2011) PBL uses authentic, real world assignments.  These activities are based on a highly motivating and engaging situations, question, tasks or problem.  The classroom becomes a cooperative group.  The teachers become the facilitators of instruction of academic content in the context of students working together to solve problems (Barell, 2007 2010,  Baron, 2011 Grant 2010)

By simply running a search online for PBL, will find you a plethora of resources and lesson plans.  For ease of access, here is a beginning for your collection.  Lesson plans,


The lessons start with Framing Questions and move to Essential Questions, Unit and Content Questions.  This is a very natural way to teach and assess.   However, keep in mind, I am old.

In this model, students have some choice in selecting their group project and how to work toward their solution.  This allows for students to participate in the kind of instruction, style of engagement and a creative approached to content.  Students work more effectively toward a solution, and this typically results in higher levels of academic achievement ( Larner and Mergendoller, 2010; Marzano 2007). The result is engaged students using the teacher as a facilitator. They are creating solutions, supporting hypothesis, and developing unique approaches to solving problems through a next generation of thought.

Because PBL increases motivation to learn, teamwork and collaborative skills, it is now highly recommended as a 21st century teaching technique (Cole and Wasburn-Moses, 2010; Satchwell and Loepp 2003)


PBJ is still a sandwich, but highly recommended on white squishy bread with a bit of apple jelly.

Barell, J. (2010). Problem-based learning: The foundation of 21st century

skills. In J. Bellanca & R. Brant (Eds.), 21st century skills: Rethinking how

students learn. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree Press.


Bender, W. N. (2012). Project-based learning: Differentiating instruction for

the 21st century. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.


Cole, J. E., & Wasburn-Moses, L.H. (2010). Going beyond “the math wars.”

A special educator’s guide to understanding and assisting with inquirybased

teaching in mathematics. Teaching Exceptional Children, 42(4),



Larmer, J., & Mergendoller, J. R. (2010). 7 Essentials for project-based

learning. Educational Leadership, 68(1), 34-37.


Satchwell, R.E., and Loepp, F.L. (2002). Designing and Implementing an Integrated Mathematics, Science, and Technology Curriculum for the Middle School (44). Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 39(3).


Marzano Secondary Curriculum and Effective Teaching Marzano’s The Art and Science of Teaching (2007) ch 3