What’s the Problem in PBL? It Could be Your Driving Question… | Thom Markham | 4 Min Read

One of the enduring conversations PBL educators have about project-based learning is how to differentiate a project from PBL. One distinguishing marker—probably the best differentiator—is that PBL uses a Driving Question to frame the inquiry and set up an objective (or what I call a ‘true north’) for the project. Projects emphasize doing, but PBL integrates doing and knowing by posing a clear problem to be solved, supporting students as they seek solutions, and then assessing the quality of their answers. That’s the function of the Driving Question.

In my last article, I pointed to the ‘clear problem’ method as an easy self-test for PBL teachers who wonder about the quality of their Driving Question. Many people trace PBL to John Dewey and his ideas on projects, but PBL has deeper roots in problem-based learning, which originated in the 1960s. Remembering this puts a PBL teacher in the right mindset: At the heart of every PBL experience is a problem to be solved. Asking yourself ‘What is the problem?’ before project launch is a simple reminder but often forgotten in our desire to explore big ideas and themes in PBL. 

So, why do we see so many projects…

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Thom Markham

Thom Markham is an educator, regenerative psychologist, and global entrepreneur. Thom pioneered the worldwide buildout of project-based learning and human development programs for youth and is the author of Redefining Smart: Awakening Students’ Power to Reimagine Their World. Currently, his work is focused on turning schools green through deep sustainability. He shares his ideas in Rx for the Planet, with Dr. Thom, a newsletter designed to prod human thinking beyond convention and assumption.