Article

A Guide to Project-Based Learning (PBL) for IB Learners

Nov 06, 2023
Project based learning pbl Edmentum International article

Project-based learning (PBL) is a phrase often heard within schools that teach alongside the IB curriculum, and both of them emphasize deep conceptual understanding.

When we say PBL, though, what do we really mean? And better yet, how do we effectively implement this in the classroom? Let’s take a look in a bit more detail and explore how you can try out this technique in your classroom.

What’s Project-Based Learning (PBL)?

PBL is all about “big transferable ideas” rather than subject-specific content.

This is different from traditional teaching, where there is a focus on understanding and memorization.

PBL supports the IB’s learner profile attributes and is all about considering how students will learn, bringing real-world meaning to content knowledge and skills. It’s all about driving questions that align student work to a relevant issue or problem.

PBL aims to support students with a lifetime of learning, independently and in tandem with others. Also, it encourages students to consider global challenges through inquiry, action, and reflection.

PBL puts the focus on the learners.

Due to this, PBL can also support individualized learning. The IB programs aim to encourage students to be active, compassionate and lifelong learners.

This means PBL and inquiry-based learning support education in being holistic, with the student’s whole development in mind. This teaching method strikes a balance between cognitive development and overall well-being.

PBL aligns with design thinking. Design thinking is all about incorporating users’ needs into the project and design process. Design thinking can work in a number of ways, but ultimately, it supports learners in applying the knowledge and skills they have learned to go and take meaningful action.

In this way, PBL can involve certain steps such as:

  • Communicating with other students
  • Identifying a goal
  • Making an action plan
  • Giving out duties
  • Putting together a plan
  • Analyzing any outcomes

These are all important life skills for the future.

What is IB?

The International Baccalaureate, or IB, is a learning program designed to promote real-life skills for adulthood and foster an international, global perspective.

The IB sees that the modern world is complex and extremely connected. Given those circumstances, the IB uses up-to-date, research-backed methods to prepare students for that world.

You can imagine how project-based learning can fit so perfectly into this well-rounded IB model.

Why PBL?

These days, there are many professions that don’t simply rely on knowledge and facts – the development of a learner is equally important.

All people in the workforce, whether they work in tech, research, science, the arts, education, business, or elsewhere, will benefit from the ability to:

  • Think creatively
  • Problem solve
  • Work as a team

This type of instruction is designed to work in global contexts. Students gain an understanding of language and culture, and it also helps with global and local engagement, including challenges and issues.

Aims of PBL

With PBL, students develop skills they will likely need for the demands of the 21st century and beyond.

As the IB and PBL aim to encourage students to engage with real-world problems and do work that is real to them, students who have these universal themes in their classroom are supported with:

  • Creating connections with students’ past experiences
  • Learning through experience
  • Promoting a more in-depth knowledge of content
  • Helping students to take action with their learning

Implementing PBL in the Classroom

When you’ve decided on a driving question for students to explore – which is ideal for creating a culture of thinking that allows students to see alternative ways of thinking – your lesson could flow like this.

  1. You put forward a “research question,” which is the concept of the project.
  2. You then ask students to answer that question through a variety of methods, such as dance or music.
  3. Finally, students bridge their learning experiences to support their learning of the knowledge, whilst perhaps tests that may be set will identify learning targets and understanding.


Overall, the project-based learning that goes hand-in-hand with the IB promotes ties in students’ emotions and knowledge. This can engage students to a better degree than the demands of a curriculum that is more traditional and purely fact-based to prepare students for exams.

Students can use the knowledge they have learned from PBL in learning other subject areas.

An Example of PBL in the Classroom

Here is how a unit about genetics could look like with a project-based learning approach:

1. The students start by receiving some traditional instruction about genetics (What is it? How does it work? Etc.) The teacher also introduces the final project: the students are going to analyze food samples to find out if the food’s ingredients are what the restaurant said they were.

2. Systematically throughout the unit, students are working together (or separately, depending on your style) in learning both about the details of genetics and how they apply to the final project. This is where the bulk of your standards are covered.

3. Occasionally, students participate in labs that let them practice their skills as if they were in a genetics lab.

4. Finally, students analyze the food samples using the knowledge and skills they acquired throughout the unit.

The Challenges of PBL

Some people find that pacing and differentiation under PBL is more challenging. Depending on the project, the entire class probably needs to be in the same place in order to create the final product. Because the steps toward the project are often revealed to the students at the beginning of the unit, high performing students will want to work ahead. Brainstorm enrichment opportunities that can happen throughout the unit.

The second challenge is resources. The genetics lab example above isn’t cheap (although cheaper than it was 10 years ago). That will probably be the case for every science project. Math and the humanities have some leeway in just how “professional” their project can be.

Perhaps the central goal is for students to work in more real-world situations, preparing them for the world of college and career. Students need to think critically and work collaboratively. Project-based learning certainly accomplishes those goals.

Project-Based Learning: Encouraging the Lifelong Pursuit of Knowledge

IB learners are not only now better set to make links with their own experiences in the present and the wider world but also when looking to the future. Students use their personal experiences to engage with their learning and what they know to answer a driving question.

With this, they can become more interested in their studies and in using their own knowledge to support their understanding. This will aid their student development in a holistic way and prepare them to be lifelong learners.

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