comes innovation—a new answer to
a driving question, a new product, or
an individually generated solution to
a problem. The teacher does not ask
students to simply reproduce teacher-or textbook-provided information in a
To guide students in real inquiry,
refer students to the list of questions
they generated after the entry event.
Coach them to add to this list as they
discover new insights. The classroom
culture should value questioning,
hypothesizing, and openness to new
ideas and perspectives.
6. Feedback and Revision
As they developed their ideas and
products, student teams critiqued one
another’s work, referring to rubrics
and exemplars. Ms. McIntyre checked
research notes, reviewed rough drafts
and plans, and met with teams to
monitor their progress.
• • •
ANNE dowIE photogrAphy
Students at Tamalpais High School in California study U.S. Social Studies content.
Formalizing a process for feedback
and revision during a project makes
learning meaningful because it emphasizes that creating high-quality products
and performances is an important
purpose of the endeavor. Students need
to learn that most people’s first attempts
don’t result in high quality and that
revision is a frequent feature of real-world work.
In addition to providing direct
feedback, the teacher should coach
students in using rubrics or other sets
of criteria to critique one another’s
work. Teachers can arrange for experts
or adult mentors to provide feedback,
which is especially meaningful to students because of the source.
the problem at an exhibition night.
The invited audience included parents,
peers, and representatives of community, business, and government
organizations. Students answered questions and reflected on how they completed the project, next steps they might
take, and what they gained in terms of
knowledge and skills—and pride.
• • •
Schoolwork is more meaningful when
it’s not done only for the teacher or the
test. When students present their work
to a real audience, they care more about
its quality. Once again, it’s “the more,
the better” when it comes to authen-
ticity. Students might replicate the kinds
of tasks done by professionals—but
even better, they might create real
products that people outside school use.
local groups to advocate cleaner seashores. Several government agencies
eventually came through with funding
for water monitoring at local beaches.
In truth, one of the products students
created was a poster. What made that
poster different from the meaning-lite
one Ms. McIntyre assigned? The High
Tech High students chose to do their
poster because it was an effective way to
communicate their message at Exhibition Night—and the team stood
nearby to explain it. To create the
poster, students engaged in an extended
process of inquiry, critique, and
revision. They learned important things
in the process. In short, even a poster
can be meaning-heavy if it’s part of a
project embodying the seven essential
elements of project-based learning. EL
Authors’ note: Individual and some place
names in this article are pseudonyms.
7. A Publicly Presented Product
In Ms. McIntyre’s class, teams presented
their analyses of water contamination
issues and proposals for addressing
The Rest of the Story
The hypothetical project described here
was inspired by a real project, “Media
Saves the Beach,” carried out by students at High Tech High in San Diego,
California. In this real-life project,
students worked alongside established
John Larmer (415-883-0122; john
firstname.lastname@example.org) is director of product
development and John R. Mergendoller
( email@example.com) is executive director at
the Buck Institute for Education, 18
Commercial Blvd., Novato, CA 94949.