Project-Based Learning

What is Project-Based Learning?

Project-Based Learning (PBL) is an inquiry-based learning approach that develops learner agency, content knowledge and skills when students actively engage in real-world problem solving. PBL can be a successful learning methodology for any age student. The learning occurs over time within the context of the project which is structured around a complex, real-world question or problem that invites sustained inquiry and critical thinking. The creation of the product or solution that learners will ultimately share with an authentic, real-world audience results in the development of content knowledge, skills, attributes, and a greater sense of learner agency to make a positive impact on the world around them.

Where is the Impact?

Transformation in Practice

Project-based Learning (PBL) encourages continuous exploration of a challenging question or issue, revision based on meaningful feedback, and a commitment to reflection. The process culminates in the creation of a public product that provides value to the student and/or the community. The impact on learning and student growth is clear when you see learners building solutions for real problems, presenting their own ideas, and developing the confidence that they are able to make a positive impact in their world starting now.

MV PBL Case Study

Have you or your child ever seen a playground and wondered why it was built the way it was or how it could be improved? This unit encouraged students to ask those same questions but this time with the intention of designing their own.

This unit took students out of the classroom to visit real world examples of what they were studying. This project experience merged design with collaboration, math, empathy, and elements of Mount Vernon’s design thinking methodology.


The students started by creating a list of likes and dislikes about playgrounds they had explored in the past. They then conducted collaborative research by looking at pictures and videos of famous playgrounds around the world. Implementing Spidea Web, a brainstorming method used to organize thoughts, students categorized their visions into groups such as age, accessibility, layout, and location. Then, students participated in one of six different expeditions around Atlanta: Exploring Chastain Park, Riverside Road Park, Morgan Falls Overlook Park, Peachtree Corners Park, Swift Cantrell Park, and Dunwoody Nature Center. While there, students made observations about the park’s equipment, layout, and accessibility by taking notes and snapping photos on their iPads. Students were led to think about their own playground design ideas. “How can they be accessible and fun for children with impairments? Can I make it inviting for children of all ages? Will my park be sustainable?”

Idea Exchange

After exploring somewhat unfamiliar parks, students evaluated two known play areas in a brand new light – Hammond Park and The Mount Vernon Frontier. They took notes on observations, connections, and questions about these play spaces and the playgrounds they visited on Tuesday.


With multiple days of research under their belts and teams formed, Grade 5 turned to the drawing board with the intention of designing a playground that could replace the Lower Campus Turf Field.


In their small groups, students created a spreadsheet of the items they would like to purchase with a budget of $30,000. “This theoretical budget increased from last year’s due to inflation and supply chain issues,” teacher explained. “We were able to include a mini supply and demand lesson into this unit that we did not include last year.”

With detailed designs down on paper, the students sketched to-scale models with the help of MVXpert and landscape architect.. And finally created a larger scale drawing which presented their design journey to the class. Students will present their final designs to school administration later this month.

External Case Study

Hawken School

MV Experts consulted with administration and teachers from the Hawken School to implement high-quality Project-based Learning (PBL). MV Consultants led by Nicole Martin, Executive Director of Learning and Innovation, facilitated a group session comparing and contrasting Project-Based Learning with Design Thinking so that teacher leaders could dig deeply into the nuanced depths of these inquiry-based approaches. Then, they guided participants around the school to develop observation and curiosity journals that could seed ideas for projects and design-thinking challenges. Hawken teachers built PBL unit plans based on these emerging brainstorms and provocations.

How do I get started?

Excited? Curious? Overwhelmed? Check out these step-by-step resources to guide you along your Design Thinking journey.


Want more information on competency-based learning? Let us know where you are on your journey. Transformation needs a guide. We can help.

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