Project-Based Learning

Educators and students had to find innovative ways to connect with families, collaborate with peers, and engage students in meaningful learning. They were like explorers on an expedition, navigating and problem-solving in an unfamiliar, challenging landscape and often without the tools they needed.

As state, district, and school leaders determine the safest and best approach for the 2021–22 school year, whether it’s students learning remotely, in person with social-distancing requirements, or through a hybrid model, one thing is certain: School will look different. While educators and young people forge ahead into this new normal, skills like adaptability, creativity, and collaboration are critical as they navigate challenges that lie ahead. These skills are reflective of the core beliefs and values of Catholic Online University and are integral to developing an explorer’s mindset.

One way to foster an explorer’s mindset—regardless of where and how students learn—is through Project-Based Learning (PBL). Project-Based Learning engages students in independent work such as research that can happen anywhere and anytime, as well as working with peers, which can happen in person or virtually. This is one reason why PBL is particularly well-suited for a hybrid-learning environment in which some learners are working independently at home or farm, while others are working collaboratively in the classroom. Another is that PBL provides learners an opportunity to develop critical, lifelong skills in an efficient way, which is increasingly important as many schools implement abbreviated schedules. We heard from several teachers in the Catholic Online University Educator Community that a project-based approach has helped their students and them make a smoother transition to virtual learning.

Catholic Online University offers a lens that educators can use to guide all students, in any circumstances, in learning that helps them develop an explorer’s mindset in the next school year and beyond. 

There are seven steps to this process...


  • A Challenging Problem or Question

    The project is framed by a meaningful problem to be solved or a question to answer, at the appropriate level of challenge.

  • Sustained Inquiry

    Students engage in a rigorous, extended process of posing questions, finding resources, and applying information.

  • Authenticity

    The project involves real-world context, tasks and tools, quality standards, or impact, or the project speaks to personal concerns, interests, and issues in the students’ lives.

  • Student Voice & Choice

    Students make some decisions about the project, including how they work and what they create, and express their own ideas in their own voice.

  • Reflection

    Students and teachers reflect on the learning, the effectiveness of their inquiry and project activities, the quality of student work, and obstacles that arise and strategies for overcoming them.

  • Critique & Revision

    Students give, receive, and apply feedback to improve their process and products.

  • Public Product

    Students make their project work public by sharing it with and explaining or presenting it to people beyond the classroom.