Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements

A research-informed model for improving, calibrating, and assessing your practice.

Student learning goals for projects include standards-based content as well as skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, self management, project management, and collaboration.

What is Gold Standard PBL? To help teachers do PBL well, we created a comprehensive, research-informed model for PBL to help teachers, schools, and organizations improve, calibrate, and assess their practice. In Gold Standard PBL, projects are focused on students' acquiring key knowledge, understanding, and success skills.

Gold Standard PBL. Seven Essential Project Design Elements. Wheel illustration has icons for each of the elements, as outlined below. At center of wheel is Learning Goals – Key Knowledge, Understanding, and Success Skills.

Gold Standard Project Based Learning by PBLWorks is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0.

Seven Essential Project Design Elements

Question mark illustration

A Challenging Problem or Question

The project is framed by a meaningful problem to be solved or a question to answer, at the appropriate level of challenge

Clock illustration

Sustained Inquiry

Students engage in a rigorous, extended process of posing questions, finding resources, and applying information.

Fingerprint illustration


The project involves real-world context, tasks and tools, quality standards, or impact, or the project speaks to personal concerns, interests, and issues in the students’ lives.

Speech bubble illustration

Student Voice & Choice

Students make some decisions about the project, including how they work and what they create, and express their own ideas in their own voice.

Brain illustration


Students and teachers reflect on the learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, the quality of student work, and obstacles that arise and strategies for overcoming them.

Circle arrow illustration

Critique & Revision

Students give, receive, and apply feedback to improve their process and products.

Public presentation illustration

Public Product

Students make their project work public by sharing it with and explaining or presenting it to people beyond the classroom.

Watch Gold Standard Project Based Learning in Action

VIDEO: March Through Nashville

This project features Kimberly Head-Trotter of McKissack Middle School, in Nashville, TN, with her 6th grade ELA/History class.

For more great Gold Standard PBL resources...

  1. See our book Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning for more on the what, why and how of Project Based Learning.
  2. Check out the Project Design Rubric to get a detailed description of what each of the Seven Essential Project Design Elements looks like.
  3. Read the white paper about Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements.

Useful articles for each Gold Standard Design Element

Challenging Problem or Question

Sustained Inquiry


Student Voice & Choice


Public Product


Yes, we provide PBL training for educators!

PBLWorks offers a variety of workshops, courses and services for teachers, school and district leaders, and instructional coaches to get started and advance their practice with Project Based Learning.

Learn more