Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements

A research-informed model for measuring, calibrating, and improving 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 measure, calibrate, and improve 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

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


Sustained Inquiry

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



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

Student Voice & Choice

Students make some decisions about the project, including how they work and what they create.



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

Critique & Revision

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


Public presentation

Public Product

Students make their project work public by explaining, displaying and/or presenting it to audiences beyond the classroom.


Watch Gold Standard Project Based Learning in Action

VIDEO: The Tiny House Project

This project features teacher Cheryl Bautista of Katherine Smith Elementary School, San Jose, CA and her third graders.

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...

See our book Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning for more on the what, why and how of Project Based Learning.

Check out the Project Design Rubric to get a detailed description of what each of the Seven Essential Project Design Elements looks like.

Read the white paper about Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements.