Project-Based Learning: Framework and Examples - Ellipsis Education

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Project-Based Learning: Framework and Examples

July 14, 2022

“Too often, we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve,” says Roger Lewin, award-winning science writer and author. 

“Too often, we give children answers to remember rather than problems to solve,” says Roger Lewin, award-winning science writer and author. 

According to Lewin, strict memorization is not enough. We need to encourage students to think bigger, engage with real world projects, and work together as a team.

This is where project-based learning (PBL) comes in.

Project-based learning encourages students to engage with real-world problems and present solutions. In this post, we explore the definition of PBL and why it is important, along with teacher- and student- focused frameworks to help you hone your practices in the classroom.

What is Project-Based Learning?

Project- based learning is a teaching approach that encourages students to answer complex questions and demonstrate learned skills. Students, either alone or in teams, work on a project that tackles real-world challenges. With this approach, there is no one right answer; PBL enables students to take initiative, work together, and effectively communicate solutions. These skills directly align with the 4 Cs of 21st century learning: collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.

Learn more about the definition of PBL and how it can be applied in the classroom with Ryan Steuer, Executive Director of Magnify Learning. Ryan, a former engineer and teacher, has provided countless professional development sessions to help teachers implement PBL. Read a Q&A with Ryan where he discusses his approach to PBL and watch his My STEM Career interview where he shares about his own career journey.

Importance of PBL in Education

Research proves the importance of project-based learning activities in the classroom, especially in STEM subjects. Project-based learning holds promise for exposing all students to STEM careers and encouraging them to pursue STEM studies (Crouch, 2015; Verma & McKinney, 2015). If your goal is to teach a PBL project that exposes students to professions influenced by STEM, explore our My STEM Career series. Industry experts share information about their careers, describe their professional experiences, and offer advice to students. 

Next, project-based learning results in high levels of student engagement (Brush & Saye, 2008) and improved collaborative skills (ChanLin, 2008). It has shown to increase student achievement (Bartscher, et al., 1995), is more effective when teaching STEM subjects (Marx, et al., 2004), is more effective in creating long-term retention of concepts, and improves students’ ability to integrate and explain concepts than traditional teaching methods (Buck Institute, 2009; Geier, et al., 2008). On high-stakes tests, PBL students perform as well or better than traditionally taught students (Geier, et al., 2008; Parker et al., 2011).

Overall, project based learning is immersive and exciting. It allows students to connect with material in ways that are personally meaningful. This type of active learning encourages students to think critically and creatively about issues. All of these outcomes of PBL prepare students to apply what they have learned in future situations, whether in higher education or careers.

Types of Project-Based Learning


To better understand project based learning in the classroom, PBLworks created the Gold Standard PBL Model. It outlines project design elements and teaching practices to help educators hone their PBL approaches. 

Explore the Gold Standard PBL Model in this graphic:

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Speaking directly to the teacher experience, the Gold Standard PBL Model outlines seven teaching practices that will help students meet learning goals. Those include:

  1. Design and Plan: Teachers balance planning projects while allowing student freedom.
  2. Align to Standards: Teachers ensure that the projects cover key skills and knowledge and skills. 
  3. Build the Culture: Teachers foster an environment where students are free to fail, ask questions, and grow. 
  4. Manage Activities: Teachers guide students through project planning, from ideation to completion 
  5. Scaffold Student Learning: Teachers keep the project interesting, using various teaching strategies and methods to reinforce concepts.
  6. Assess Student Learning: Teachers include formative and summative assessments of both individual and team work.


The Gold Standard PBL Model also complements PBLworks’ high quality PBL framework (HQPBL). The HQPBL outlines project based learning from the perspective of the student experience. According to the framework, a high quality PBL experience includes:

  1. Intellectual challenge and accomplishment: Students tackle complex challenges and problems.
  2. Authenticity: Students are motivated to work on relevant and meaningful projects.
  3. Public product: Students present and discuss their solutions with the class.
  4. Collaboration: Students work together with classmates, teachers, and community mentors over the course of the project. 
  5. Project management: Students are given the freedom to execute their own plans, from project ideation to completion.
  6. Reflection: Students assess their own work and learning throughout the project (not just at the end!).

Project Based Learning Curriculum

While there are many ways to introduce project based learning, computer science is uniquely positioned to develop both technical and personal skills, from coding to thought processing. That is why PBL is at the core of Ellipsis Education. Project-based learning lesson plans included with each Ellipsis Education course encourage students to explore foundational computer science concepts with real-world applications.

Let’s explore some project-based learning examples from Ellipsis Education. Project-based learning examples for elementary students occur in all Ellipsis Education K-5 courses. A four-part series of lessons in Computer Science Fundamentals empowers students to plan and develop a user interface for a zoo. Students analyze and organize data, work from a model to code program functionality, test and debug their code, and offer peer feedback.

Another project-based learning example comes from our Intro to Computer Science Applications course, built for 6th grade. Coding projects in this course teach students how to build web pages using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Educators are able to provide students with multiple interactive projects that align to industry level application. One lesson poses the question, “Are you old enough to vote”? Students are tasked with figuring out how to build a web page that informs a user whether or not they are eligible to vote. 

Watch a short video where a STEM teacher discusses her experience with the project-based learning lesson plans in Ellipsis Education.

Project-Based Learning Lesson Plans

Are you a PBL expert, or looking to get started with PBL through computer science in the classroom? The Ellipsis Education Computer Science Lesson Plans page offers free lesson downloads for K-12 teachers who want to adopt PBL in the classroom. 

For quick reference, here are 3 free lessons that preview the way Ellipsis Education helps educators set up projects in the classroom. 


Download the lesson. In this Unplugged lesson, students learn different ways to communicate an idea and will practice generating ideas with a visualization activity. Students will then use their senses to envision their dream classroom and draw their ideas. Through this activity, students gain an understanding that ideas are unique and different for everyone.


Download the lesson. In this coding lesson, students will code Scratchy to move across the stage. Students learn cross-curricular math concepts by demonstrating an understanding of directions on the coordinate system. This lesson is built for grades 3-5 and introduces coding for kids: Scratch, a block based coding language.


Download the lesson. In this STEM Career lesson, students learn about Digital Security Analysts and how to protect yourself online by leaving a good digital footprint. Students will be able to apply a wide understanding of cybersecurity concepts by demonstrating multiple different strategies for being safe online.

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* Scratch is a project of the Scratch Foundation, in collaboration with the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. It is available for free at