What are the PBL Projects?

The PBL Projects of the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) are a series of STEM problem based learning curriculum and professional development projects funded by the Advanced Technological Education (ATE) program of the National Science Foundation (NSF). Each of the PBL Projects has developed a collection of authentic real world multimedia case studies called Challenges with industry partners in the areas of optics and photonics, sustainable technologies, and advanced manufacturing (in process).

Students engaged in the PBL Projects are charged with solving a real world industry-based problem that has multiple solutions. Students work in teams, have an opportunity to develop and test a prototype (if appropriate in their course of study), present their solutions to their peers, and learn of how the industry partner solved the same authentic problem. This process allows students to connect STEM concepts to the real world, to get a feel for industry and new career fields, and allows them to compare and contrast their solution with that of an actual company.

Additionally, the PBL Projects provide professional development activities for secondary and postsecondary STEM educators and teacher educators. The project trains instructors by hosting “learn by doing” workshops in which instructors experience the PBL process as a student. Participating instructors gain access to an archive of teachers’ resources and are introduced to implementation and assessment strategies for PBL. The PBL Challenges have been aligned to national science, math and technological literacy standards, will be aligned to the Common Core, and are available on the Internet for free.

NSF-ATE PBL Projects

  • AM PBL DUE#1204941
  • STEM PBL DUE #0903051
  • PHOTON PBL DUE# 0603143

Previous NSF-ATE Projects Include:

  • PHOTON2 2003-2006
  • PHOTON 2000-2003
  • FOTEP 1995 – 1998


What are students saying about PBL?

“PBL teaches you what to do when you don’t know what to do. First, by process of elimination, you learn what you do know and then it gives you clear steps on how to go about researching the parts that you don’t know. The ‘Whiteboards’ helped me with time management, taught me what to do, when to do it, and helped me not to be afraid of a problem, to tackle a problem that I had never seen before and to come up with an answer that was at least close to the mark. That was very valuable.”

– Springfield Technical Community College, Mass.


“What I liked most was presenting our solution. It let me get a feel for what professionals do every day.”

– South River High School, Md.


“I lost some of my fear of science through this Challenge. I feel like I can understand something I was too scared to try on my own.”

– Oak Ridge High School, Mich.


“PBL was a very rewarding experience for me. It was way different from normal learning. I felt like an actual scientist instead of just a student in high school. If PBL was an every day or weekly activity it would help kids a lot, because when you are just sitting at a desk and teachers are giving you information it’s really boring, but when I have to find the information on my own it sticks with me.”

– Taft Union High School, Calif.


“PBL gave us practice communicating and working together as a small group, and an outline on how to tackle problems.”

 Stonehill College, Mass.


“Initially, I was overwhelmed by all the technical aspects considering I am not from any sort of science/math/tech background, and didn’t really feel I had any solutions to contribute. But the combined effort and brainpower of the whole group was really helpful and I think I learned a lot.”

– Three Rivers Community College, Conn.

Contact Us