15 Common PBL Mistakes | mistake #3: only 1 right way

11 11 2014

I have the best job in the world. On a regular basis, I’m given the extraordinary fortune to talk with teachers who are embarking on a PBL journey with their students. To dig into the smaller, everyday details of how to make this type of learning environment work. To answer the tough questions about sustainability, rigor, behavior management and then take the questioner further…that’s like chocolate to me! I can’t get enough.

Over the years of starting my own PBL school and learning in a baptismal fire, I’ve been able to find a way to talk with new or reluctant teachers about their concerns. Additionally, there are things that excited, energetic teachers might want to consider as they take their first steps into the PBL fire as well.

In the next month or so, I’ll be publishing a regular series to include 15 common mistakes that educators make and some solutions they might consider. Here’s the next one in the series:

Mistake #3:
Tell teachers there’s one “right” way to do PBL.

Problem: Project Based Learning is not a set of “to-do” checklists. It’s a multi-faceted set of approaches to learning that is absolutely responsive to a local community culture. It’s a dynamic approach to teaching and learning that is customized to the students, to the teacher, and to the wider school and community. To say there’s only one “right” way to do PBL is to ignore the learner-based customization that PBL fosters.

Solution: While there are many “truths” to PBL, the one thing that is universal to all types of Project and Problem Based Learning is that the learning occurs as students are answering a problem, question, or challenge. It is not “learning and then doing,” as with traditional school projects where a student learns something, then creates something to show us what she learned. Instead, it’s “learning by doing,” meaning that in the process of answering a question, or solving a problem or challenge, the student is learning along the way. If your students are learning by doing, then you’re doing PBL.

Want to learn more about Project/Problem Based Learning?


In 2006 with 12 years of traditional classroom experience and 2 days of formal PBL training in her pocket, Ginger Lewman started a middle school, grades 5-8, that was a 1:1 laptop and Project Based Learning environment. Five years later, the middle school had doubled in population twice and had expanded to include PBL in grades K-8. They were also in the process of opening a PBL high school the next fall. Ginger now works with school leaders in helping them learn how to support the PBL shift, and inspires their teachers to take the leap. Meanwhile, she also continues to co-teach with K-12 teachers in the training process, keeping her own teaching chops sharp and ready.  

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