Elements of Gold Standard PBL

Larmer, Mergendoller, and Boss (2015) present a good reflection on process of Gold Standard PBL (Larmer et al., 2015) in their book “Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning : A Proven Approach to Rigorous Classroom Instruction”.

Larmer et al. (2015) define Gold Standard PBL as “Gold Standard PBL blends them into a pedagogy that combines the best practices of each as reflected in current research, theory, and the experience of the many expert teachers we work with and learn from each year.” (p. 58). Larmer et al. (2015) argues that “through a process of rigorous assessment, critique, and revision that learners encounter the strengths and deficiencies of their initial ideas and efforts, add missing details and elaborate their products, recognize misunderstandings, and, finally, deepen their learning.” (Larmer et al., 2015, p. 62). Gold Standard PBL has seven key elements; “(1) a challenging problem or question, (2) sustained inquiry, (3) authenticity, (4) student voice and choice, (5) reflection, (6) critique and revision, and (7) a public product. ” (Larmer et al., 2015, p. 79).

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(Larmer & Mergendoller, 2015)

Larmer et al. (2015) summarised each of the elements as follows:

Challenging Problem or Question

“Problems and questions provide the organizing structure for Gold Standard Project Based Learning and make learning meaningful because they give learning a purpose—students are not just gaining knowledge in order to remember it; they’re gaining knowledge in order to use it. By focusing on a problem or question, students not only master new knowledge but also learn when and how this new knowledge can be used. ” (Larmer et al., 2015, p. 79)

Sustained Inquiry

“Challenging problems or questions are used to launch an inquiry designed to solve the problem or answer the question. The Latin root of inquiry means “to ask,” and the classic PBL project begins by students asking, “What do we know?” and “What do we need to know?” to solve the problem or answer the driving question. These questions lead students (generally with teacher guidance and assistance) to identify investigations and research to be conducted and tasks to be completed, and plan the public product they will create.” (Larmer et al., 2015, p. 81)


Larmer et al. (2015) argues that a project can be authentic in different ways:

  • “First, the context of a project can be authentic, as when elementary students design and create restaurant menus, or high school students, acting as advisors to the president, advocate for specific economic or social policies.” (Larmer et al., 2015, p. 84)
  • “Second, the tasks students complete, and the tools they use, can make a project authentic if those tasks and tools match what people do in the “real world.” Many career-focused projects emphasize real-world tasks and real-world performance standards. Other projects that use real-world tasks focus on the problems, dilemmas, and ways of thinking that people face each day, when they design websites, schools, or living spaces; arrange exhibitions; analyze competing alternatives; prepare budgets; conduct telephone surveys; or write letters to the editor.” (Larmer et al., 2015, p. 84)
  • “Third, projects can have an authentic impact on the world, as when students make a presentation to the school board proposing the redesign of a school playground, write books and create a tutoring program for younger readers, design and sell note cards to raise money for a wildlife sanctuary, or conduct research projects and submit data that will be used to better understand climate change.” (Larmer et al., 2015, p. 85)
  • “Finally, projects can have a personal authenticity because they speak to students’ personal concerns, interests, or issues in their lives, or because they engage the needs, values, language, and cultural practices of students’ communities.” (Larmer et al., 2015, p. 85)

Student Voice and Choice

“Faced with a challenging problem or question, students must be able to exercise judgment and make decisions about how to resolve it. Otherwise the project becomes an exercise, a set of directions to follow. Gold Standard PBL calls for students to voice their ideas and make choices over the course of the project. This requirement has consequences for both learning and motivation.” (Larmer et al., 2015, p. 86)


“Careful reflection enables students to determine whether the problem solving strategies they are using are appropriate to the problem being solved. Problem solving and metacognitive strategies are frequently embedded in specific academic disciplines and do not transfer across subject areas (e.g., textual analysis strategies do not generally help students solve physics problems). Consequently, Gold Standard projects need to be designed to prompt subject-appropriate thought (Bransford et al., 2000).” (Larmer et al., 2015, p. 87)

Critique and Revision

“Gold Standard PBL emphasizes the importance of improving student work through critique and revision. By building in checkpoints, where students receive feedback on their work from their teacher, perhaps other adults such as experts or mentors, and their peers, students examine the quality of their work and have opportunities to revise and improve it. Students are taught how to examine each other’s work and how to provide suggestions for improvement. Such critique and revision is a normal part of product creation and is generally carried out through protocols or other structured processes to ensure that the feedback is “specific, helpful, and kind” (Berger, 2003).” (Larmer et al., 2015, p. 89)

Public Product

“A public product can also increase student engagement. Research into job satisfaction and motivation has shown that workers become more committed and engaged when working on tasks that make a difference (i.e., are authentic), require a variety of skills, and for which they have some control from initiation to completion (Hackman & Oldham, 1980). This sounds almost like a definition of project based learning!” (Larmer et al., 2015, p. 91)

In all, Larmer et al. (2015) book Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning : A Proven Approach to Rigorous Classroom Instruction, provides a good discussion and description of Gold Standard PBL. I would recommend for anyone interested in Project Based Learning.

Reference List

Larmer, J., & Mergendoller, J. (2015). Gold Standard PBL: Essential Project Design Elements. Retrieved from http://bie.org/blog/gold_standard_pbl_essential_project_design_elements

Larmer, J., Mergendoller, J., & Boss, S. (2015). Setting the Standard for Project Based Learning : A Proven Approach to Rigorous Classroom Instruction Retrieved from http://parra.eblib.com/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=2071568


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