Project Based Learning (PBL)

 PBL engages students in collaborative problem-solving almost every day.

PBL engages students in collaborative problem-solving almost every day.

 Hands-on learning, designing, and creating are integral aspects of PBL.

Hands-on learning, designing, and creating are integral aspects of PBL.

What is PROJECT BASED LEARNING (PBL) and Why is it Important?

PBL, or Project Based Learning, is a teaching method that engages students actively in learning by asking them to investigate an interesting and complex question, problem, or challenge, and then to create something in response.  Students engage in large, meaningful projects that require creativity and bring to bear skills and knowledge from multiple disciplines to solve real problems or build something for the benefit of the community.  It is hands-on, collaborative, and challenging for students, who see the real-life or personal relevance of what they are learning—think “students doing, not teachers delivering.”  Projects can vary in length; some may take a week or two, others a month or more.  Projects may be done individually, in teams, or by a whole class.  PBL gives students more responsibility than they think they can handle, but supports and guides them through the challenge.  Once students realize they are capable of greatness, they are forever changed.  They will have the skills to succeed in future jobs—even those that haven’t yet been created.

Technology has revolutionized the way the world works, and continues to do so at a rapid pace of change.  The expertise required to succeed in today’s information economy are more reliant on skills, and less so on memorization of basic facts—technology has reduced the need for this.  The skills most sought after today are taught through PBL—problem solving, communication, soft (social) skills, critical thinking, collaboration, using technology effectively, etc.  Basic facts still need to be learned, but of greater importance is what students are able to do with those facts.

How Does PBL Prepare Students for College?

PBL prepares students for college success and PBL schools have very high college acceptance rates.  Students from PBL high schools often have more developed and diverse resumes than typical high school graduates, and they also have a portfolio of work they can discuss and include with their college application that demonstrates the work they’ve done—setting them apart from other applicants.  Many PBL students learn skills that enable them to start a business while in high school, filling their resume with skills and experience that can make them immediately successful in college or the working world.  

 Public exhibitions of student work is an important part of PBL.

Public exhibitions of student work is an important part of PBL.

 PBL teaches students resume-building skills that are relevant to life outside of school.  

PBL teaches students resume-building skills that are relevant to life outside of school.  

Student Work is Done for a Public Audience

PBL is done for a public audience, creating authentic and purposeful learning.  PBL creates students who are innovators, creators, artists, scientists, writers, historians, designers, and entrepreneurs.  PBL engages students in real-world work—work that professionals in the field do on a regular basis.  Students become effective problem solvers, communicators, designers, thinkers, and collaborators—ready for success in today’s economy.  PBL promotes deeper learning and students retain the knowledge and skills long after the class ends.  At the end of a project and at the end of each semester, student work is publicly exhibited.  This allows students to learn to communicate well, speak with adults in a professional manner, and become comfortable speaking and presenting to others.  

Do teachers teach the Colorado Academic Standards and do students take tests?

Yes, the learning of specified subject-matter concepts and standards is at the heart of PBL.  Teachers weave their content standards into the projects for their class.  Standards that do not fit within a project are taught outside of projects.  As for testing, 5280 administers required state standardized tests, as required by law.  Tests like the SAT or ACT are important in applying to college and it’s critical that students are adequately prepared to take them and do well.  Students at 5280 take tests just like at any other high school, but they aren’t the only way to assess what students have learned.  Additional assessments are also used—for example performance-based assessments that allow students to demonstrate their learning in ways other than a written test.

 PBL students communicate with their peers and adult staff daily.

PBL students communicate with their peers and adult staff daily.

 PBL allows for more personalized, rigorous learning for all, within a classroom of students with diverse strengths, interests, and passions.  

PBL allows for more personalized, rigorous learning for all, within a classroom of students with diverse strengths, interests, and passions.  

Is PBL effective for students who learn differently?  What about Gifted students?  English Language Learners?

PBL is a great way to learn for students who require different approaches, have a learning disability, or are gifted.  PBL inherently personalizes the learning and allows students to engage with the project at a level that is both accessible but also rigorous to them.  PBL allows all students to be challenged at the appropriate level and to grow.  5280 has Academic Coaches in classrooms to assist students with IEPs individually and in small groups.  5280 is a full-inclusion school. 

PBL is also an effective learning style for English Language Learners.  PBL requires more verbal communication than in a traditional classroom, so students learning English have more opportunities to practice their skills and communicate with others.  5280 has ELA Coaches in classrooms to assist our language learners directly and individually.  

Has PBL been proven effective?

Yes, studies have shown PBL to be effective in:

  • Deepening understanding of content and better retention over time
  • Teaching math, economics, language, science, and other disciplines
  • Improving critical thinking and problem solving skills, and application of learning to real life contexts
  • Maintaining or increasing performance on high-stakes tests
  • Improving students’ ability to work collaboratively and resolve conflicts
  • Closing the achievement gap by engaging all students in rigorous work
  • Different types of schools, and schools serving diverse learners
  • Improving student attitudes toward learning
  • Improving attendance

Interested in Learning More About PBL?

For more information on the "why" of PBL for today's economy, click here.  

These great videos (hereherehere and here!) further exemplify the teaching style & projects of PBL. 


Core Academic Program

Students will take the following classes at 5280:

  • Humanities I, II, & III (English & Soc. Stud. combined)
  • English IV
  • Math I, II, III, & IV (integrated Algebra, Geometry, Calculus)
  • Physics, Chemistry, Biology, 1 other science elective
  • Engineering, 1-2 courses
  • Spanish I & II
  • Art, 1-2 courses
  • Multimedia I & II (Adobe Creative Suite apps)
  • 1 additional academic elective
  • 4 wellness electives each year (student choice)
  • Weekly Academic Advisory x 4 years
  • Intentional Community (every morning) x 4 years
  • 11th Grade Academic Internship for 4 weeks
  • 12th Grade Independent Senior Project
  • Intersession x 1 week every year
  • Optional: Concurrent enrollment at local colleges
    *Honors classes are offered and open to all students in grade 11 & 12 academic classes.


11th Grade Internship

All 11th graders complete a 4-week academic internship at a business, nonprofit or other organization by working with an adult expert in their field of interest.  Students authentically explore a career of interest, learn to navigate the complexities of a professional workplace, and practice communicating effectively with a wide range of adults.

College Coursework

All students have the option to pursue advanced study in specific topics by taking college classes through partnerships with local colleges. 

 These intersession students built rafts and floated and camped on the river for 3 days (with life jackets on!).  

These intersession students built rafts and floated and camped on the river for 3 days (with life jackets on!).  


Intersession is an annual 1-week deep dive into an area of passion or interest that typically doesn’t occur within usual classes and academic disciplines.  These allow students to pursue their passions and other worthy pursuits that don't typically occur during school.  Examples include backpacking, raft-building, 3D digital design, Claymation videography, Mock Trials, and more.

Senior Projects

Every 12th grade student designs a personalized learning experience tailored to their future goals.  Examples include scientific or artistic endeavors, internships, writing projects, community service work, and more.  



We take seriously our role in educating students, and believe school can be so much more than academics.  Coupled with our bold and authentic teaching style, we will pioneer a wellness philosophy that develops minds, hearts, bodies and souls.  We want our students to be not just brilliant, but balanced; work not just on meaningful projects, but also have a meaningful life. 

Teenagers grapple with where they belong, what they value, and what kind of person they want to be.  We will tackle the challenges of adolescence head-on and support students as they learn to navigate life more independently.  Our culture is both purposeful and cultivated, emphasizing inclusiveness and empathy within a strong, diverse community.  Through traditional coursework, extracurricular activities, and daily wellness activities, our students will be equipped and prepared to enter adulthood and reach their full potential. 


Daily Wellness Electives

Wellness electives run from 3:00-3:45pm every day, and change quarterly.  Students choose from a myriad of options, all focused on some aspect of comprehensive wellness, for example:

  • Physical health: i.e. flag football, yoga, ultimate Frisbee, etc
  • Mental health: i.e. mindfulness, personal journaling, art studio, chess club, etc
  • Social-emotional health: i.e. student leadership, restorative justice team, guitar club, etc
  • Summit Students: i.e. recovery groups, other groups
    *** Students who play sports can substitute their sport for this credit. 


In weekly Academic Advisory, students learn from each other about academic issues, the internship experience, the college application process, and more.  Advisories stay together for four years, and advisors ensure that every student is on-track to meet their post-graduation goals for college and beyond.

Intentional Community (IC)


IC is the first class of every day, from 8:20 – 8:55am, and focuses on emotional intelligence and social skills.  Students learn to engage in healthy, responsive relationships with their peers, and learn positive ways to work through challenges.  Adolescence can be a difficult time, but learning how to address these difficulties now as a teenager, will equip students with the tools necessary to lead meaningful, joyful, balanced lives.  Students engage in thoughtful, introspective dialogue with their peers about life—the challenges, successes, joys, and dilemmas that we as human beings encounter.  Teenagers grapple with where they belong, what they value, and what kind of person they want to be; 5280 supports students in making positive, healthy choices as they learn to navigate life more independently.


5280 Ensures All Students Are Successful

Smaller class sizes of 26 students per class—more individualized attention. 

Smaller school size (104 students per grade)—no one falls through the cracks. 

In-class support staff for students in special education, English language learners, and Summit Program students.  These Coaches work with students individually and in small groups to provide personalized support. 

Students have the option of 45 minutes of tutoring and additional academic support every day—plus additional opportunities before or after school.  

Students can access on-site counseling, social work, nursing, & other supports


Teenagers today face a myriad of stressors, from anxiety and depression, to eating disorders & substance abuse.  At 5280 High School, we will not sweep these stressors under the rug, but confront them head on, with boldness, accountability, and a culture of empathy and support.

In line with these principles, 5280 has a program for students in recovery from addiction, eating disorders, or other conditions best addressed within a community of like-minded peers.  Summit Program staff support Summit students in their academic pursuits, and help them learn to integrate the principles of recovery into school and their daily life.  Through strong community partnerships and a vibrant, positive school culture, students in the Summit Program gain the understanding, knowledge and skillsets required for life-long recovery, and are equipped to thrive in college, career, and civic life.  

Summit students, having already received treatment and on the road to recovery, will have the same academic experience as other 5280 students, but will have recovery-specific activities and specialized staff to support them.  Though the program directly supports students in recovery, all 5280 High School students will benefit from the safe environment created by candid dialogue around living a lifestyle free from drugs and alcohol, and addressing life's challenges directly.  And all students will benefit from the empathy building that comes with learning from and with peers who are facing different challenges.