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Rigorous PBL by Design - Book Cover Look Inside

Rigorous PBL by Design

Three Shifts for Developing Confident and Competent Learners

By: Michael McDowell

Find out how to make three shifts essential to improving PBL’s overall effect by helping students discover, deepen, then apply their learning to a world beyond them.
Product Details
  • Grade Level: PreK-12
  • ISBN: 9781506359021
  • Published By: Corwin
  • Series: Corwin Teaching Essentials
  • Year: 2017
  • Page Count: 208
  • Publication date: March 22, 2017

Price: $39.95

Price: $39.95
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Thoughtful Design Guide for Maximum PBL Impact

When problem- and project-based learning (PBL) is designed and delivered effectively, it has the potential to create confident and competent learners. Educators must know how to thoughtfully design projects that move students from surface to deep and transfer learning.

Bridge the gap between expected PBL success and real-life classroom implementation by diving deep into the design for new and existing projects. Through in-depth examples, discover how to make three shifts essential to improving PBL’s overall effect:

  • Clarity: Students should be clear on what they are expected to learn, where they are in the process, and what next steps they need to take to get there
  • Challenge: Help students move from surface to deep and transfer learning
  • Culture: Empower them to use that knowledge to make a difference in their life and the lives of others

Be the key to help students discover, deepen, and apply their learning to a world beyond them.

“This is an outstanding resource for educators, providing a practical framework for creating effective and impactful PBL experiences. We are committed to strengthening our PBL practices and we look forward to adding this valuable resource to our professional reference library.”
Rachel Bergren, MSc, Director, Education and Guest Experience
The Marine Mammal Center

"Michael McDowells book provides powerful insights to ensure the conditions essential for PBL are present for increased impact on student learning. This magnificent book provides educators with practical ways to design authentic and 'ever-lasting' learning."
Sarah Martin, Principal
Stonefields School, New Zealand

Key features


Going Deeper With PBL Design includes:

  • In-depth examples of how to re-tool existing PBL projects for maximum impact on student learning
  • An appendix of additional examples to help teachers getting started with PBL
  • How to use PBL to address surface, deep, and transfer learning outcomes
  • How to use PBL to increase students' confidence in their learning
  • Questions to help teachers reflect on their lessons and classroom culture
  • Next steps and activity prompts to use in the classroom


Michael McDowell photo

Michael McDowell

Michael McDowell, Ed.D. is the Superintendent of the Ross School District. Most recently, he served as the Associate Superintendent of Instructional and Personnel Services at the Tamalpais Union High School District. During his tenure, the Tamalpais Union High School District was recognized by the Marzano Research Laboratories as one of the top highly reliable organizations in the United States, and schools within the district received recognitions by the US News and World Report, and honored with California Distinguished Schools accolades.

Prior to his role as a central office administrator, Dr. McDowell served as the Principal of North Tahoe High School, a California Distinguished School. Prior to administration, Dr. McDowell was a leadership and instructional coach for the New Tech Network supporting educators in designing, implementing, and enhancing innovative schools across the country. Before engaging in the nonprofit sector, Dr. McDowell created and implemented an environmental science and biology program at Napa New Technology High School, infusing 1:1 technology, innovative teaching and assessment, and leveraging student voice in the classroom. Additionally, Dr. McDowell, taught middle school math and science in Pacifica, CA.

Dr. McDowell is a national presenter, speaking on instruction, learning, leadership and innovation. He has provided professional development services to large school districts, State Departments of Education, and higher education. In addition, he was a former National Faculty member for the Buck Institute of Education and a key thought leader in the inception of their leadership work in scaling innovation in instructional methodologies. His expertise in design and implementation is complimented by his scholarly approach to leadership, learning, and instruction.

He holds a B.S. in Environmental Science and a M.A. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Redlands and an Ed.D. from the University of La Verne. He received departmental honors for his work in Environmental Science and was awarded the Tom Fine Creative Leadership Award for his doctoral work at the University of La Verne. He has also completed certification programs through Harvard University, the California Association of School Business Officials, the American Association of School Personnel Administrators, and Cognition Education. He holds both a California single subject teaching credential and an administrative credential.
Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Foreword by John Hattie


Chapter 1. Focusing on Confidence and Competence in Learning

     Confident and Competent Students at Work: Sir Francis Drake High School

     Confidence in Learning Attributes

     Competence in Learning Levels: Surface, Deep, and Transfer

     PBL as a Vehicle to Build Confidence and Competence in Learning

Chapter 2. Designing PBL for Student Confidence and Competence

     Make PBL Effective

     Advancing PBL by Design

Chapter 3. Design Shift I: Clarity—Understanding Expectations of Learning Upfront

     Clear Expectations Motivate Learning

     Where Am I Going in My Learning?

     Steps for Determining Clear Learning Intentions and Success Criteria in Project Design

Chapter 4. Design Shift II: Challenge—Structuring and Sequencing Learning Through Projects

     Designing for Challenge and Intervention

     Step 1 (Plan A): Align Student Activities and Teaching Actions According to Surface, Deep, and Transfer Expectations

     Step 2 (Plan B): Structure Inquiry to Identify Student Performance and Provide Support That Aligns With the Learning Needs of Students

Chapter 5. Design Shift III: Culture—Knowing and Acting on Impact Collectively

     Developing a Culture of Confidence

Chapter 6. Reflections on PBL Practice

     Working Together for Impact

     Retooling PBL to Serve as a Vehicle for Confidence and Competence

Afterword by Suzie Boss


     Appendix A. Project Design Template

     Appendix B. Sample Projects

     Appendix C. PBL Design Shift and Key Elements Checklist

     Appendix D. Recommended Texts for PBL Implementation