Ron Berger smiling


We’ve very excited to announce that Ron Berger, Chief Academic Officer at EL Education, is the PBLWorks 2019 PBL Champion award recipient, who will deliver a keynote speech at PBL World in Napa, California, on June 20. He’s a super-engaging speaker, famous for his collection of student work for show & tell, and a long-time friend of ours.

The PBL Champion award is given each year by PBLWorks to a person, a school, and a school district. The recipient demonstrates a commitment to Project Based Learning, has done quality, lasting work, and has shown evidence of impact on students.

Ron Berger on Receiving the PBL Champion Award

I asked Ron for some comments upon hearing about the award, and here’s what he said:

“I have been fortunate to work in project-based education for more than forty years, and I am gratified to see the movement growing again, especially with a sharper focus on quality. In life, we are not measured by test scores, but by the quality of our work and the quality of our character. If we want students to build the ethic and skills to do great work, we have to give them the opportunity to learn this.

Providing students with meaningful and challenging problems, supporting them to create beautiful work to contribute to the world—could there be a more inspiring approach to education?

“I am honored to be recognized by PBLWorks, a long-time leader in the PBL movement, as a champion of this work. I began my career as a public school teacher working on projects in the tiny rural town where I still live. Almost every adult in my town is a former student, and they all remember the projects we did together to support the community: testing the streams and the wells, testing homes for radon gas, collecting census data on local species. I am fortunate to still be able to work with schools across the country and around the world now to give all students opportunities to work with experts and do important work like this. This is the type of education that all children deserve.”

And I can’t resist passing along Ron’s comments on PBLWorks/Buck Institute for Education:

“Having been a supporter of BIE (PBLWorks) since the very beginning of its focus on PBL over 20 years ago (the "John Days" of John Mergendoller, John Larmer, and (consultant) John Thomas) and the tiny staff back then, I am delighted to watch the impact and scope of your national work expand so powerfully and positively in the past few years. The growth of your national partnerships, your publications, your staff, your conference, and your contribution to the national discourse is terrific. And it has been joined by a continual commitment to quality—to better defining and supporting a "gold standard" for project-based learning. I recommend your work everywhere I travel.”


Ron at his desk


Influence on the Field & PBLWorks

A lot has been written about Ron already, so I’ll try to make this brief, but that’s tough to do, as he really is one of the fathers of modern PBL. I’ll start with his slim-but-powerful 2003 book, An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students. It made a deep impression on me. Ron drew from his experience as a carpenter to argue for slowing down and focusing on quality over quantity in education. That simple yet revolutionary message has informed the development of the PBLWorks model for Gold Standard PBL. For example, in our description of the Project Based Teaching Practices, one aspect of “Build the Culture” is “attention to quality.” In explaining the Essential Project Design Element “Reflection” we say that students reflect on “the quality of their work”—and quality work is a major reason we made “Critique and Revision” and “Public Product” two other Essential Elements. 

Ron’s influence also appears in our PBL 101 workshop and follow-up coaching for teachers. In the critique protocols we facilitate and encourage teachers and school leaders to use, we follow Ron’s mantra of “kind, specific, and helpful” feedback, which has practically reached 11th-Commandment-status by now. And there’s the almost-as-famous video, which we’ve shown for many years, “Austin’s Butterfly,” featuring Ron talking in his gentle way with a group of 3rdgraders to demonstrate the power of peer critique.

EL Education, Ron’s organization, is a member of the Deeper Learning Network and a national leader in creating PBL-infused schools and top-notch curriculum. I highly recommend their collection of student work (part of which Ron is famous for toting around in a suitcase) and their vast collection of interdisciplinary K-12 projects.

I asked the PBLWorks staff for their thoughts on Ron’s contributions to their work:

Bob Lenz, Executive Director:

“Ron is one of my PBL Heroes. His work as a teacher set the bar for excellence in PBL and now his work at EL Education is inspiring educators all over the world. I quote Ron in almost every keynote I give.”


Gina Olabuenaga, Director of Curriculum:

“The title of his book, An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship with Students, was to me an invitation and a call to action. A request and an expectation.

When I was a 5th grade teacher eager to improve my own practice and deepen the work and independence of my students, I dove into his book. Ron made it seem possible. And it was possible.

With love, respect, support, and high expectations, my students could do this work. We referred to the three rules for feedback as “Ron Berger's critique guidelines.” His name was known and celebrated in my class. My students made a video of how they did critique and posted examples of feedback around the room. Students asked for feedback freely and willingly.

“His work changed my classroom. There was more shared ownership, students were excited to learn and grow rather than be fearful of feedback, they saw themselves as capable, and they wanted to take more risks.”


Dinah Becton-Consuegra, Director of Partnership Development:

“Ron is synonymous with everything that embodies being a Libra. He is a lover of all things beautiful which includes: classic cars, fine calligraphy, and great disco music. And like a classic car he is understated yet powerful.

He is a social justice warrior and lover of great conversations.”



John is an education consultant and writer. He was the editor in chief at PBLWorks for many years.