Innovate and Impact Instructional Practice through Rigorous PBL by Design

The Core Collaborative Learning Network supports systems to ensure classroom educators and educational leaders ensure their students have a balance of surface, deep, and transfer understanding of core academic and 21st Century content knowledge and skills and that they have a command over their own learning.

McDowell provides a practical, step-by-step process using Hattie’s research to help teachers improve PBL so it provides the effect on student learning that it should.


– Peter DeWitt, Ed.D., Author & Consultant


What is Rigorous PBL and how does it lead to more clarity for teachers and students in the classroom? The following videos illustrate how Rigorous PBL by Design moves teacher practice and substantially impacts student learning.

Rigorous PBL by Design

Rigorous PBL by Design
Rigorous PBL by Design:  What is it?

Rigorous PBL by Design: What is it?

Play Video
teacher feedback - jessica beeman

teacher feedback - jessica beeman

Play Video
teacher feedback - lexie calal

teacher feedback - lexie calal

Play Video

Educators often feel they are faced with the choice between using innovative instructional methods—such as problem and project based learning—or reverting to traditional direct instruction methods. We desire for more authentic and engaging methods to nurture children’s creativity and engagement, and yet worry whether students are gaining the content knowledge they need to think critically. But this dichotomy is unnecessary; when PBL is designed and delivered effectively, it has the potential to provide the deepest and most lasting impact on learning, scaffolding for deep content knowledge and critical thinking.


PBL has a substantial impact on learning when carefully designed and implemented for surface, deep, and transfer learning.


Rigorous PBL emphasizes three key shifts to project design and implementation:


Clarity of learning outcomes and leveled success criteria at surface, deep, and transfer

Challenging students at their learning level through targeted instruction and feedback
Ensuring a culture that focuses on students taking ownership over their learning


The Rigorous PBL by Design Program consists of the Foundation, Deep Dive, and Coaching sessions. Each is described below.








Rigorous PBL Foundation

The three day session walks teachers through the development of a rigorous problem or project that they can use in the classroom. 

  • Day 1 explores the rationale for utilizing Rigorous PBL by Design in the classroom and engages teachers in the steps required to establish clarity in the project-based environment.

  • Day 2 focuses on designing targeted instructional, feedback, and learning strategies that will support learners in developing a rigorous level of understanding of core content.

  • Day 3 focuses on developing a learning culture in the class and offers time for teachers to give and receive feedback on initial project sketches.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Design a series of projects that embeds the three key design shifts

  • Relate instructional, learning, and feedback strategies to levels of complexity

  • Improve learner confidence and equip students with the skills they need to achieve on state tests, college entrance exams, and life

deep dive.png

Deep Dive

This two-day session walks teachers through various scenarios to move learners to transfer and engage deeply in 21st Century skills. 

Learning Outcomes:

  • Develop strategies to actively involve students in the creation of success criteria, evaluate exemplars, and measure individual and collective performance over time

  • Design transfer tasks and experiences for students to engage in the classroom and present to authentic audiences

  • Develop strategies for implementing effective student teams during transfer level tasks 

  • Explore methods for students and teacher to measure growth and proficiency through a project-based experience 

personal coaching.png

Rigorous PBL Personalized Coaching

Personalized coaching and job-embedded professional learning is critical to quality Rigorous PBL implementation. Job-embedded learning refers to the learning that is grounded in the daily work of teachers and school leadership. It is characterized as learning by doing and encourages teachers and leaders to actively engage in and reflect on their practices.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Review student performance data

  • Give real time feedback on project design

  • Modeling for quality implementation and sustainability

book-Teaching for Transfer.png

Teaching for Transfer

by Michael McDowell

Michael's latest book focuses on empowering students to become creative problem-solvers by cultivating transfer-level skills in learners. Filled with resources and protocols, it is a must-have addition to your Rigorous PBL by Design library!

Bring Rigorous PBL to your School or System