The Key to Create Authentic Project Empower Student Learning

What is Authentic Project Based Learning

Key to create an authentic Project Based Learning Project is to make it real, relevant and impactful. John Larmer in his article “PBL: What Does It Take for A Project to Be ‘Authentic’? defines a project as not authentic unless it is in the real world, directly connected to the lives of students and real issues in their communities. Larmer discusses some criteria for determining whether a project-based learning unit is authentic.

Sliding Scale of Authenticity

Sliding-Scale of authenticity for projects, as Larmer describes it, goes from not authentic to somewhat authentic to authentic.

Sliding Scale Description Example
Not Authentic Students’ work does not resemble the work done outside of school, or isn’t intended to influence anything apart from an academic purpose. There is no public audience or students’ work, no one uses what they create, and the work they do is not what people do in the real world. A not-authentic “dessert project” would involve the assignment students typically give in school: compose an essay, create a poster or model, write and present a book report, or make a PowerPoint presentation on a topic they have researched.
Somewhat Authentic Students are doing work that simulates what happens outside of school. Students could play a role of scientists, engineers, advisors to the president, website designers, etc.—who are placed in a scenario that reflects what might actually happen in the real world. Or students could create products that, although they are not actually going to be used by people in the real world, are the products people use.
Fully Authentic Students are doing work real to them-it is authentic to their lives-or the work directly affects or uses in the real world. Students might advocate for a cause, improve their community, perform a service for someone, create a physical artifact to display or distribute, or express their own ideas about a topic in various media.

4 Ways A Project Can be Authentic

Larmer describes a project that can be authentic in four ways:

The Truth About Climate Change According to Kids

The Truth About Climate Change According to Kids is an example of a project that addresses a timely topic relevant to everyone. It shows what can be accomplished by elementary age students, and it is an excellent example of students addressing an authentic need in their own community. This project is one of the many examples you can find on the website at the end of this project description.

Background Information

School: Presumpscot Elementary School

City/State: Portland, ME

Grade(s): 3

Format(s): Video: PSA

Subject(s): Science and Technology

The Truth About Climate Change According to Kids

Students created a storyboard, wrote interview questions and conducted the interviews. They also wrote the narration and participated in the acting, filming, photography, and voiceover—and created the visuals (lobster drawings and greenhouse effect poster) for this PSA.

We asked the Teacher:

And she asked her students:

You can find more examples of Interdisciplinary Projects that Live Beyond the Classroom from


John Larmer sums it up best about Project Based Learning:

“I agree that fully authentic projects are often the most powerful and effective ones, because they are so engaging for students and allow them to feel like they can have an impact on their world—so the more of them, the better. But if you can’t get there yet, don’t feel like you’re failing the authenticity test in your projects. Some is still better than none.”

The next blog explores the Driving Questions that drive a project.

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