Project-based learning (PBL), a pillar of Summit Learning, shifts learning from a teacher-driven endeavor to a student-driven enterprise. Scores on projects comprise 70% of a student’s course grade in most subject areas; concept units (40%) and projects (30%) comprise 70% of the grade in math courses. Schools that partner with the Summit Learning Program have made a commitment to a shift in grading, and also, in teaching and learning.

PBL may sound like a strategy we already have in classrooms: Students make a project that shows what they have learned. Such application of the term project-based could be called project-based assessment. Project-based learning implies that learning happens as one engages in the project. The emphasis is on the process and the construction of knowledge. Scoring reflects a student’s development of cognitive skills rather than the level of excellence displayed by a product.

PBL has been around awhile in education, and what is meant by the term is not consistent across the field. In discussing PBL as it is used in Summit Learning, we use the definition presented by The Buck Institute for Education:

Project-based learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.

Presenting a video developed in the English project, “Power of Persuasion”

Early in the process of adopting Summit Learning, our staff discussed problem-based learning, and it was relatively easy to see how science concepts and skills could be learned in projects. It was not as easy to understand how a project-based approach would apply to other subject areas.

Working on wiring for the “Electric House” physics project



While projects sometime involve building physical models or carrying out experiments, there are many ways that a scholars investigate questions and problems. Students were presented with a variety of tasks and resources when working through projects, and ultimately, they presented their learning in the form of final products. Among the products our students constructed were:

  • Letter to a member of congress
  • Video presentations
  • Debate and Structured Academic Controversy events
  • Short stories
  • Electrically wired model buildings
  • Handbook for job seeking
  • Devices for protecting fragile objects
  • Surveys and resulting data
  • Video newscast
  • Acceleration models an data representations

If you are looking into using Summit Learning or are about to begin your use of the program, get ready to see some powerful, student-driven activity and authentic learning outcomes.