Wednesday, October 17, 2012

PBL Brings Authenticity to International Baccalaureate

FRONT ROW SEAT | Jill Ackers

Project Based Learning is finding a natural home within the framework of International Baccalaureate programs. Both PBL and IB emphasize deep conceptual understanding. Through PBL we seek to develop 21st century skills, in particular critical thinking, problem solving, and collaboration. The IB program has very similar goals—that students be inquirers, thinkers, communicators, open-minded, risk-takers and reflective.

The IB program places structured inquiry at the heart of the learning process. Successful inquiry leads to meaningful reflection and responsible action initiated by students as the result of their inquiry. PBL is organized around a driving question, which focuses student work around an important issue or challenge. Student learning in IB is framed by a series of essential questions: Who are we? Where are we in space and time? How do we express ourselves? How does the world work? How do we organize ourselves? How do we share the planet? These six units last all year long, and are a deep dive into the challenges of the real world.

A look at some of the projects being done at IB schools around the world gives us some models. At the Nanjing School in China, they wanted to invigorate their PE program. The teachers challenged the fourth grade students to create a game using a net for their third grade schoolmates. They had to provide directions, the length of play time and the health benefits of the game. They also needed to describe the strategy you might follow to win the game. Another project for 11 to 12 year old students focused on culture and expression, and asked, “How do we welcome the world to OUR world?” Students were challenged to represent their own culture in performances which would be shared with a public audience. They could compose music, write lyrics, or choreograph a dance, and introduce the performances with a speech, all related to the UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity.

Yet another school developed a design challenge for an 8th grade technology class, which focused on the question, “How can we design for dual form and function?” As product engineers, the students must design a “briefcase chair.” The project assigns the students a real-life role, which adds authenticity to their project and teaches what it means to be a product engineer, and through their design report they explain how their product will be used in the real world. At an International school in Jakarta, geography students are designing a bike path for their local community, and submitting a plan to the local planning agency.

Check out the archived webinar:

International Baccalaureate & PBL

Schools using the International Baccalaureate program often find PBL to be a perfect fit. This webinar explores how PBL provides opportunities for in-depth inquiry in both the Primary Years Program and the Middle Years Program, and allows students to authentically connect their work to the real world. We will show examples of project-based units to highlight how the 8 Essential Elements of PBL fit seamlessly into PYP and MYP unit planners, programs of inquiry, and the areas of interaction, while adding depth to student exhibitions and personal projects.

The International Baccalaureate program is dedicated to lifelong learning, getting our students engaged in real world problems. Project Based Learning is a great way to deliver this challenge. Within IB, we seek assessment that is authentic, rich, engaging and feasible, and incorporates students into the evaluative process. In PBL we have similar goals – because we have students doing work that is real to them, authentic to their lives, and with a direct impact or use in the real world.

Jill Ackers
BIE National Faculty


  1. Interesting you mention the whole of the IB diploma as promoting 'structured enquiry'. For me, the foundations of critical thinking take place in ToK - the ability to think about thinking. In some senses, its a shame that ToK is such a small part of the IB course.

  2. What about PBL in the DP English Language & Literature courses?