Hacking PBL

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Despite the hype surrounding project based learning (PBL), it is seldom made a reality in our schools and classrooms. Due to its countless layers and complexities, and despite best efforts, educators often implement something that only vaguely resembles PBL.

As questions and mysteries continue to swirl, experienced classroom teachers and school administrators Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy have written a book that will empower those intimidated by PBL to cry, “I can do this!” while at the same time providing added value for those who are already familiar with this approach to teaching and learning. This book truly demystifies what PBL is all about with 10 hacks that construct a simple path educators and students can easily follow to achieve success.

When you learn how to hack project based learning, you’ll be able to:

  • Create a culture of risk-taking to promote student inquiry and exploration
  • Maximize class time by prioritizing specific content and learning outcomes
  • Craft assessments and integrate feedback to ensure that every student learns
  • Provide intentional and purposeful opportunities for student reflection and publishing

Implement these strategies today and turn your school and classroom into a place that is dripping with inquiry-based learning, authentic learning, and a love of learning.



HACKING PROJECT BASED LEARNING is a classroom essential. Its ten simple “hacks” will guide you through the process of setting up a learning environment in which students will thrive from start to finish.

Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive and A Whole New Mind

In Hattie’s research PBL has shown to have a low effect size. However, it doesn’t mean we need to discount it. It means we have to look at how we do it and improve upon it. This is where Hacking Project Based Learning by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy comes in. They have researched PBL from every angle and offer practical steps to make the PBL experience highly beneficial to students because they are practitioners who use it. This book is a very important “How-to” for every teacher and leader who is interested in PBL.

Peter DeWitt, author/consultant, Finding Common Ground blog (Education Week)

The challenge for educators with project and inquiry-based learning is finding the time and having the knowledge to implement effectively. Cooper and Murphy provide a much-needed resource that addresses both of these pain points in a concise, clear manner.

Eric Sheninger, Senior Fellow, International Center for Leadership in Education

As the Director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools, I’ve had the opportunity to work closely with more than 4,000 school leaders over the past few years. From coast to coast, I’ve seen firsthand how these leaders are seeking ways to implement rigorous, authentic learning opportunities for all students. As seen in today’s most successful schools, creating such opportunities takes a redesigned learning experience that is personal while promoting real world application. In Hacking Project Based Learning, Cooper and Murphy, two highly successful practitioners, provide a blueprint for such a redesign. They outline ways to foster a culture of inquiry and creativity, grounded in a deep understanding of rigorous content, with concrete ways to authentically assess dynamic student learning and growth. Unlike many education books written today, Hacking Project Based Learning provides practical steps to shift instructional practices while maintaining a laser focus on high levels of student learning. If you’re a school leader working to create authentic learning opportunities for all of your students, you will find this book to be one of your best resources on your journey moving forward.

Thomas C. Murray, Director of Innovation, Future Ready Schools,
Alliance for Excellent Education

Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy have created an accessible guide for all educators on the meaningful implementation of project based learning within any classroom setting. The process, laid out in 10 easy to follow hacks, takes educators on a journey from the theory behind PBL to the actual planning and execution of PBL in a way that is best for kids. Whether someone is a PBL novice or an expert who has been using the PBL approach for years, this book offers dozens of new and practical ideas while also suggesting ways to handle pushback from those who embrace the deficit mindset. In addition to the focus on PBL, the thing about this book that really resonated with me were the overarching themes of empowering students to take ownership over the learning and empowering educators to go much deeper than just “covering the curriculum” – Hacking PBL is all about meaningful learning that results from thoughtful questioning. Hacking PBL is a must have for every classroom!

Tony Sinanis, 2014 NYS Elementary Principal of the Year, speaker, author of Hacking Leadership

Hacking PBL is a must have for administrators trying to help their teachers bring hands-on, minds-on learning to their classrooms. The process is clear, the problems are real, and the hacks are practical. In the end, the work will be transformational for classrooms. Anyone starting the process of project based learning in their space needs this book!

Joe Sanfelippo, Superintendent, speaker, author of Hacking Leadership

Ross and Erin created an easy to follow road map that will help any teacher at any level successfully integrate project based learning into his or her learning spaces. They break down the specifics of how in easy to follow steps, as well as explicitly walk teachers through the how of meaningful collaboration. If you’re looking for a book on PBL, this is sure to be a go-to in your collection.

Starr Sackstein, high school English teacher and teacher coach, author of Hacking Assessment

Chances are you are picking up Hacking Project Based Learning for three possible reasons. You may want to get started with project based learning and aren’t sure where to begin. Or maybe you’ve dabbled in PBL before but want to make it better for your students. Although, I’m sure there are many of you who are also going to use it as a text that supports what you are already doing in your classroom, and as a way to spread the power of PBL throughout your school or district. Here’s the good news: Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy have crafted a project based learning guide that can get you started with PBL for the first time, push you further if you are a seasoned PBL veteran, or make the case to your colleagues about authentic learning. The great news is that Hacking Project Based Learning is a fast-paced, incredibly practical, and immediately actionable book that will spark innovation in any K-12 classroom.

A.J. Juliani, author of LAUNCH and Learning by Choice

Hacking PBL is just what educators need to truly demystify project based learning. Ross and Erin know PBL. They are passionate about PBL and they implemented the strategies they share in this book every day in their classrooms at Willow Lane Elementary. Ross and Erin’s passion for PBL comes across so clearly in the ten hacks by representing a simple, linear path that educators and students can follow to achieve success. I highly recommend Hacking PBL as your guide to learn instructional and learning strategies that teachers can use for implementation of PBL or in changing teaching practice. These are all practices educators should be looking to bring into schools and classrooms regardless of whether or not “full-blown PBL” is taking place.

Barbara Bray, author of Make Learning Personal and How to Personalize Learning

Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy have done an exquisite job of creating a project based bearning guide that any school or educator is sure to benefit from. Leveraging their experiences as practitioners, they provide the perfect blend of progressive ideas and research-based practices, in one easy to follow format.

Laura Fleming, Library Media Specialist, author of Worlds of Making

This book is a must-have resource for teachers and administrators who are looking to move toward true collaboration and deeper learning through real project based learning. As a classroom teacher and digital learning coach, I know the teachers I work with and I will reference it often! At each phase of project based learning, from research and planning to implementation and reflection, Cooper and Murphy have clearly explained the whys, hows, and whats. Every chapter is bursting with PBL examples, guiding questions to empower educators to develop their own high impact PBL experiences, and proactive positive answers to questions commonly asked by those who are skeptical of this approach. Whether you are an educator new to project based learning or an experienced PBL pro, you (and your students!) will benefit from this practical research-based guide.

Kerry Gallagher, J.D., Digital Learning Specialist, Director of K-12 Education, ConnectSafely