PBL Case Study

PBL Case Study

This is an example of a project that Eeva Reeder from Mountlake Terrace High School completed with her students. I have added certain things to make it into a case study that we can examine.

Entry Event

Whilst this isn’t the entry event that Eeva Reeder used, something like this could be used to ‘bait the hook’…

<— Is this a good entry event? What would you do differently? What are some other possible entry events that could be used instead of this one?


“Working as a member of an architectural team in 2050, you are competing against other companies to win the contract to design a state-of-the-art high school on a given site. You must present your proposed design to a panel of professional architects who will award the contract. Your design must meet the learning needs of students in 2050, must accommodate 2,000 students, and must make use of the natural benefits of this particular site, while also preserving at least half of the existing wetland.”

The Process

Students broke into teams of no more than four and set to work designing the school for the future. Over the course of six weeks, they considered the conditions that might best promote student learning in 2050, applied their mathematical knowledge to develop a site plan, a scale model, floor plans, a perspective drawing, a cost estimate, and a written proposal. They must then make an oral presentation to local school architects who judge the projects and “award” the contract — all making use of geometric and mathematical concepts. Students also maintain a design file, which contains their working drawings, notes, and group contracts, such as the Team Operating Agreement (adapted from a similar form at the Boeing Company), in which team members come to consensus on items such as expectations of themselves and each other, how decisions will be made, how misunderstandings will be prevented, and how conflicts will be resolved.


When Eeva Reeder presented her students with the challenge of designing a state-of-the-art school for the year 2050, she provided them with specific guidance about the assignment, reflected largely in the following documents:

Project Description: This document provides students with an overview of the design problem they are to address, what products and performances will be required of them, what the timeline is, how students should work together, and how the projects will be assessed. (Download a project rubric and an assessment rubric.)

Site Description: This document describes the physical attributes of the site for which the student teams will design a school. (Download a PDF of the site-description document.)

Team Operating Agreement: This one-page document asks each student team to address the question, “If we are working together exceptionally well, what will it look like?” Each team specifies how decisions will be made, conflicts resolved, and misunderstandings clarified as they work together as a team. (Download a PDF of a team operating agreement.)

Cost-Estimate Sample: This document models the types of calculations teams are required to do in preparing cost estimates for construction of their school designs. (Download a PDF of a cost-estimate sample.)


Assessment of the design projects occured in several ways. At the beginning of the project, students are given the scoring rubric by which their work will be measured. Each part of the project is evaluated based on quality and accuracy, clarity and presentation, and concept. Reeder also evaluates teamwork (participation, level of involvement, quality of work as a team member) during the course of the project and at the end.

Throughout, she offers feedback and suggestions and meets with the class and each team after the completion of the project. During this final session, the students reflect on their work and what they would do differently to improve.

Sometimes a team will write their reflections, as with one group that never quite came together as a team and didn’t score well — an atypical situation for the individuals involved. Team members, however, honestly assessed their individual contributions and what they’d do next time.

Many forms of assessment determine the grade each student receives. However, Reeder extols the power behind using scoring rubrics as feedback and reflection tools rather than simply ways to assign a grade. “Students are more readily able to separate their personal worth from the quality of their work, and they’re able to separate the particular aspects of their work that need improvement from those that don’t,” she explains. “It demystifies grades, and most importantly, helps students see that the whole object of schoolwork is attainment and refinement of problem-solving and life skills.”

This part is key in my opinion —-> At the culmination of the project, each group makes a short oral presentation to the panel of architects, who view the students’ work and fill out a scoring sheet. The next day, they review their evaluations with the students during a visit at their downtown Seattle offices. They identify the projects’ strengths based on concept, site planning, educational vision, technology use, environmental impact, and teamwork during the presentation. Students also have the opportunity to ask specific questions about their designs and presentation.

Student Examples



Could the project be improved? What would you do differently? What do you see as the issues or challenges?

reproduced from