Keep it Real with PBL by Jennifer Pieratt

About the Author

Dr. Jennifer (Jenny) Pieratt holds a Ph.D. in educational philosophy with emphasis in project based learning. She was also a founding teacher at High Tech High.  In her career of teaching primary and secondary students, she has been applied project based learning in real classroom with lots of trials and errors. Jenny now is a well-known expert of integrating project based learning in the traditional classroom. 

In 2016, she founded CraftED, a platform to assist teachers in designing project based learning. Today, she has been doing tons of coaching and consulting to administrators and teachers across the US and abroad

Book Review

Keep it Real with PBL provides teachers with clear steps to integrate project-based learning into the classroom.  I like the fact that this is not a theoretical book but a very practical one.  The book contains many tips, rich templates and forms so that everyone can easily follow steps by steps.  There are two versions of Keep it Real with PBL for different grades: one for secondary and one for elementary. The following paragraphs gives you an overview of the book.

What is project-based learning?

Project base learning (a.k.a PBL) advocates providing students with an environment that combines real-world and autonomous learning experience.  Students become active learners. Usually at the end of the project, they will have a group or individual final product. The product may be presented through multimedia or school public announcement. 

Each educator may have different definitions of project-based learning. These are the essential elements from Jenny:

  • It must be grounded with standards.
  • It should be integrated with the real world experience. For example: discussing community issues with local residents.
  • Frequent feedback and reflection.
  • 21st century skills development. For example: cooperation and oral expression skills.

The role of teachers in project-based learning

Because it emphasizes student-centered learning, the teacher has turned into a role as a facilitator and a model as a lifelong learner.  For example, teachers may…

  • Use open-ended questions to lead students and facilitate meaningful discussions.
  • Explore current issues with nontraditional research methodologies.
  • Be comfortable with saying: I don’t know.
  • Allow for risk taking.
  • Give effective feedback.

Design Steps

In Keep it Real with PBL, there are clear stages for teachers to follow. The steps below are a high level skeleton for you to get a sense about how a design process looks like while the book includes much more great templates for you to experiment:


The first step is to find some authentic issues that feel relevant to the students and aligned with standards. We can brainstorm different ideas with colleagues, and sometimes even collaborate with students. Most important question to ask: why do my students need to care about this content?

Backward planning

After identifying a issue and the standards, it is time to think about what you want your students to present as a final product. Is it a documentary, podcast or a poster?


Like product managers in the industry, it is important that teachers need to cut the final product into smaller and edible learning milestones.  For example,

BenchmarksStudent achievement display
Scientific background:
how are sound waves formed?
Science Quiz
Prototype musical instrumentsDraw different 3D instruments to show the scientific connection of shapes and sounds
Personal instrument designWrite down why this instrument was chosen and why it has the best shape
Learn how to presentUse google slide to present their ideas in class

Based on the different stages of PBL, teachers are encouraged to use different testing tools.  Three typical tools are checklists, rating scale and rubrics.

Establishing a solid rubric can significantly help you understand the student’s learning situation.  Ask yourself: How many standards do I want to include in this topic? Example template:

21st century tipsDevelopingProficientExpert
Understand the concept of sound wavesWith some assistance, students can do sonic surveys step by stepSelf-planned and investigated the evidence that vibrations of objects can produce soundStudents can apply the knowledge of sonic waves in other content.
Daily Plan

Finally, pace your project like using google doc and drawing a schedule for months. If you want to learn more, there are great examples in the book for reference.

Interested in Learning More?

If you are interested in these books, please go to the following links to purchase ( 30FOR30 can be used for 30% off before the end of August 2020):

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