Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning


Project Based Learning (PBL)
Learning Through Engagement and Challenge

In the PBL Lab, we offer courses that engage students in collaborative approaches to solving common problems in our community and broader society.  Students sign up for a PBL Challenge just as they would for a course.  In these challenges, students learn to work together, in order to explore and develop solutions to contemporary challenges faced by youth and our community.

The components of the PBL Lab include:

The PBL Director:  The Director coordinates program components, provides guidance in connecting teachers, students and community partners, develops resources, coordinates professional development and is the direct contact to the PBL advisory board.

The Advisory Board: Industry, education and research experts advise the director and RU administration on goals, vision, research methods, real world needs and challenge bank development. 

The Teacher as Lead Partner:  The Lead Partner assists in the development of challenges, facilitates and guides a student team, and assists through coordinating the team’s assessment panel. 

The Team:  Each collaborative team is made up of a group of students with a teacher as a lead partner.  The team works through a solution-seeking process to tackle a contemporary challenge.

The Lab Space: A space that mirrors a professional environment where hands-on, applied problem solving blends with technology and ideas-rich discussion. 

The PBL Solution-Seeking Process:

  • Interpret the challenge: begin to define the problem you are solving
  • Plan: determine research proposal, group roles and responsibilities, and a community engagement plan
  • Research: deepen your understanding of the challenge and its context
  • Reflect and Revise: refine your interpretation of the problem; revise the plans as needed
  • Collaborate: work as a team to seek a solution to the problem you have defined
  • Reflect and Revise: This should be ongoing
  • Synthesize and Apply:  test your solutions. 
  • Publicly demonstrate your learning.
  • Elicit feedback from community partners


2022-23 Project Based Learning Challenges

Racial Justice: How can we advocate for and create a more equitable community?

English/ Social Studies Standards

In this PBL Challenge, students will respond to increasing community concerns about social injustice in our local and national community. Students will work with area experts to establish and maintain a Racial Justice Student Alliance here at RU, with the goal of raising awareness around racial injustice to create a safer and more educated environment for all community members. Students will study the history of social injustice in our country, including the creation of race, the function of class division, and the history of exclusion based on gender and sexuality.

In studying these histories and contemporary impacts, students will be encouraged to question and reimagine the power dynamics that contribute to an inequitable society . Through the PBL, students will work with their peers to educate our school community about current issues, and will work with teachers to develop inclusive curricula. Throughout the year, students will work to recruit RJSA members, establish goals, and host regular meetings and events. In participating in this PBL, students will learn about organizing around social issues and advocating for change through education and civil resistance.

Career Pathways: This PBL challenge will appeal to students interested in careers in social justice, community organizing, social work, political science, history, and education.

Food Systems: How do we create community through food?

English Standards

The Vermont Department of Health recently released a simple way to understand chronic disease in VT: 3-4-50. 3 behaviors lead to 4 diseases that result in 50% of deaths in the state. Many of these conditions are rooted in what we eat, so what do we do about all of this? Most consumers believe that eating healthy is cost-prohibitive, often selecting unhealthy, yet affordable products to feed themselves and their families. In this PBL Challenge, we will do the research necessary to understand the issues that prohibit people from engaging in a more healthy lifestyle, meeting with experts, getting out into the community, and advocating and implementing change in the school and local community. We will take a journey together through the food systems pathway, from germination to propagation to harvest and distribution, all the while analyzing the challenges of sustainability, cost, and other factors that may contribute to the myth that eating healthy is complicated and unaffordable, and inviting and welcoming others to create community through a study of food systems.  In addition, this PBL spends a significant amount of time in the kitchen learning food preparation skills and producing affordable, high quality homemade foods. 

Career Pathways: This PBL Challenge will appeal to those students interested in career fields such as sustainable agriculture, food service, supply chain management, economics, political science, biology, and nutrition.

Mindfulness and Movement Exploration: How can we improve our mental and physical wellness Physical Education Standards

This PBL will explore the ways in which an active lifestyle, good nutrition, mindfulness, and a sense of purpose can all help a person to live a healthy life. Students will engage in journaling, goal setting, weight-bearing exercise, yoga, outdoor activities and more. Community partners will help students understand the roles that these elements play in their lives and expose students to a variety of paths to self-care and wellness.

Career Pathways: This PBL Challenge will appeal to those students interested in career fields such as physical education, physical training, physical therapy, mindfulness, nutrition, kinesthetics, and others.

Digital Music Performance: How can technology democratize music production?

Music Standards

Prior to the “desktop revolution,” the ability to create music digitally was out of reach for all but a few successful and wealthy composers. Today, technological tools that were only a dream for most people in the past are now commonplace, and the Internet allows us to share our ideas with the world. This PBL challenge will focus on understanding how these tools work and how they can be used to compose and share evocative music and meaningful dialogue. This will involve exploring music theory (rhythm, melody and harmony), basic piano skills, composition, history, engineering, physics, live sound reinforcement, communication, writing, and psychology. While this list of disciplines (particularly the musical ones) may sound daunting, the computer makes most of them accessible even if you are not a skilled performer. Topics will be addressed by focused individual and group projects and will culminate in the submission of a song to a class album.

Career Pathways: This PBL Challenge will help prepare students for almost any career in communications requiring content creation skills and teamwork such as video editing, web design, digital photography, theater, copywriting, live sound, and broadcast production.

Restorative Justice: Do our schools and courts treat people fairly?

English Standards

Do VT schools discipline students fairly? Do some kinds of students get suspended more often than others? Does a school suspension have any connection to dropping out? And what about our legal system: Do the courts treat people fairly? Does VT have too many prisons - or not enough? Should people with mental health challenges go to jail if they commit a crime? How should people with opiate addiction be treated when in custody? In this PBL challenge, we will begin by raising and researching questions like these. Then we will look at Restorative Justice practices, and how schools and communities can find ways to heal and repair - while still holding people accountable for wrongdoing. We will learn from local advocacy groups, law enforcement, human rights, and legal experts to help us determine what we can do in our school and community to ensure that we treat people fairly - even when they make mistakes and do harm to others.

Career pathways: This challenge will appeal to students interested in career fields such as law, criminal justice, public policy, and human rights.