It’s All About the Driving Question!


It was a graduate course called “Technology-Assisted Project Based Learning” where I learned this phrase -the Driving Question. But should a driving question exclusively belong to Project-Based Learning or should it be embedded into any kind of learning? And, if yes, perhaps there are even more components that can be “borrowed” as well?

Let’s review Project-Based Learning first.

Question 1: Define Project-Based Learning

Answer: The key words for PBL are: innovative, intrinsic motivation, higher-order thinking, authentic learning, 21st century skills, problem solving, engagement, collaboration, effective communication, students’ inquiry, student-driven, and teacher-facilitated. Music to teachers’ ears! Describing briefly, PBL is an innovative approach to learning which allows students to identify a concept of interest, conduct the research, and critically analyze the findings. Thus, learning becomes student-driven, as opposed to teacher-driven, which, in turn, increases the level of students’ motivation and engagement. Last but not least, PBL is not a “supplementary activity” to support learning; it is the curriculum concept taught through a project (Bell, 2010.)

Question 2: Describe the difference between Project-Based Learning and Problem-Based Learning.


Major similarities:

  • both are student-driven,
  • both are based on the students’ inquiry,
  • both are teacher-facilitated,
  • both allow students to engage and be responsible for their own learning.

Major difference:

While the students working on PBL identify their own questions or concepts which they would want to research, the students in Problem BL are presented with an “ill-constructed” problem for which they will need to find a solution.

Question 3: Why should teachers consider incorporating PBL in their classroom?

Answer: PBL allows students to identify their own interests and pursue new knowledge for their own authentic questions. As the result, students demonstrate a higher level of motivation and engagement. In addition, as they learn “by doing”, they develop better understanding and retain the new knowledge considerably longer, as opposed to when they study “for the test”.

Question 4. What are the essential components of a PBL approach to instruction?


  • Student driven,
  • Teacher facilitated,
  • Step-by-step, following the previously set deadlines (set by the students; guided/approved by the teacher),
  • Technology supported.


It’s quite obvious that most of the PBL components go hand in hand with some famous quotes about learning:

“Tell me and I’ll forget.
Show me and I may not remember.
Involve me, and I’ll understand.”

“I learn best by doing.”

“It’s not about what the teacher covers, it’s about what the student discovers.”

Since there is no teaching that aims no learning, it will make perfect sense to embed PBL components into any teaching and learning. The good news is that the opportunities are limitless.

As I was writing this post, I realized that many projects I assign to my students are guided by PBL principles.

Here are two examples:

  1. ESL/Upper-intermediate/College level/Communication course

Topic :”Your Academic Major”

Learning Objective(s): academic presentation, note taking, research, interviews, academic vocabulary.

PBL component Driving Question:students identify their own area of interest and come up with driving questions.

PBL component Teacher-facilitated:I remain in the background, watching students work, helping when needed.

PBL component Step-by step, following set deadlines:I guide the steps (this is the only area I will need to work on to give students more control).

PBL component Technology-supported:my students share their research sources and findings in our Facebook group (Facebook supports sharing resources, collaboration, instant communication, all in a familiar to students format. They love using it for class!)

Every session, students amaze me with the quality of their presentations, and I firmly believe it is due to their own driving questions.

2.ESL/Upper-intermediate/College level/Grammar course

Topic: “Adjective Clauses”

Learning Objective(s): successful/authentic use of the grammar skill

PBL component Driving Question:ask students to come up with (driving) questions about the grammar being taught (aiming for questions such as “why are we studying it?” or “how and when do native speakers use it?”

PBL component Teacher-facilitated:I remain in the background, watching students work, helping when needed.

PBL component Technology-supported:use the Internet for research, examples, videos, quizzes, sharing, and presenting.

Once again, when students are given a chance to think and make questions they want answers for, they demonstrate a different level of learning and can produce higher quality results.

As always, please share how you embed “driving question” into your teaching!

PS. Here are some projects produced by a few of my EDTECH fellow classmates and myself. You can also search using EDTECH 542 keywords.


PBL: Meby Gretel Patch. I was always amazed by the quality of her work.

PBL: Greece vs. Rome by Jill Lunceford.


Bell, S. (January 01, 2010). Project-Based Learning for the 21st Century: Skills for the Future. Clearing House: a Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, 83, 2, 39-43.

Belland, B. R., Glazewski, K. D., & Ertmer, P. A. (January 01, 2009). Inclusion and Problem-Based Learning: Roles of Students in a Mixed-Ability Group. Rmle Online: Research in Middle Level Education, 32, 9, 1-19.

Thomas, J. A Review of Research on Project -Based Learning: http://www>

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