Brianne Gidcumb | November 2015

Embedding the Arts in the PBL Process

The idea of planning for project based learning in and through the arts seems like a daunting task. It’s a challenge to find authentic arts-based problems and challenges to base PBL experiences. So, how can we include the arts in PBL when the PBL itself is not arts-based? Today, I’d like to share a few ways you can explore integrating the arts in the project based learning process.

While PBLs can, and should, be differentiated to authentically tackle the challenge of your project in your content, the same basic steps should be in place. Let’s walk through the major steps of the PBL process and identify access points for the arts in each step.

Embedding the Arts in the PBL Process, Education Closet


In the Introduction phase of the PBL process, we present students with a problem to base their project on. We introduce the basis of the project through an entry event, which is an engagement event drawing students in and creating relevance. From there, the problem is identified/framed through a driving question, setting students on their path to the next phase of the PBL process (see Driving Questions to Guide Inquiry in the Arts).

Access Point- Engagement: Leverage the arts as a naturally engaging way to introduce the project, problem, or task to students. By using arts integration strategies (quick and simple ways to frame a content standard through the arts) you introduce your project in an arts-based manner, even if the project itself is not arts-based (example: See, Think, Wonder strategy).


Next, students answer the driving question from the investigation and planning phase of the PBL process. Students brainstorm, research, and create a plan for their project. They collaborate with the teacher to determine criteria for success. In this phase of the PBL process, there may be lessons on content and learning activities embedded to fill in any gaps in knowledge. It should provide students with necessary background knowledge to succeed. Here, there is a great opportunity for embedding the arts.

Access Point- Learning Experiences: Integrate the arts through lessons on content infused throughout the PBL process. When students are engaged in whole-class learning experiences, look to use art integrated lesson plans to present necessary content. This provides students with an engaging way of interacting with content, increasing relevance of material, and boosting the recall and retention of information. See EdCloset’s library of arts integrated lesson plans to get you started.


Once students have investigated, and created a plan for their project, it’s time to design the project itself. Students will gather the necessary materials, create their projects, and make revisions based on feedback from peers and from the teacher. In this step, students are engaged in the creative process, and there is where our opportunity for integrating the arts lies.

Access Point- Aligning Processes: The alignment of the inquiry, creative, and design process makes it easy to see where you might look to integrate the arts into PBLs in other contents. By making intentional connections between the inquiry process, the design process, and the creative process of the arts, you build a bridge to the arts in your classroom. Use the graphic below to help outline how these processes are connected.

Embedding the Arts in the PBL Process, Education Closet


Finally, students will present their projects. Then reflect on their inquiry process, evaluate their projects, and celebrate their successes. Students should demonstrate their voice and choice. This is essential to the PBL process, determining how to present their learning- through project, product, performance, or presentation. 

Access Point- Demonstration of Learning: The arts can be an option of how students choose to demonstrate their learning. Students choose to create an arts-based project (i.e., a piece of art or a dramatic presentation), or find arts-based examples to support their findings, and demonstrate their knowledge on a topic. The powerful piece of this is that students are offered voice and choice in how they demonstrate their learning, and that the arts are a viable option.

Want more? Check out our mini-course, Project Based Learning and the Arts! This course is online and completely self-paced 12 video lessons, 16+ templates and resource packets, a packed bonus area and a certificate for 10 PD hours.

About the Author

Brianne is a former music educator from Chicago and current graduate class instructor with EdCloset’s Learning Studios. She earned her Masters degree in Music Education from VanderCook College of Music and has over a decade of experience in the elementary general music classroom. With her experience in the performing arts, Brianne is dedicated to building connections between the arts and Common Core Standards, 21st century learning skills, inquiry and project-based learning. In addition to her work with EducationCloset, Brianne is a yoga instructor in the Chicagoland area. You can also find Brianne here: