Three shifts for developing confident and competent learners.
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Rigorous PBL by Design

Author: Michael McDowell, Ed.D.

The Rigorous PBL by Design Foundations workbook is about designing and implementing rigorous problem- and project-based learning using the three C’s: Clarity, Challenge, and Culture. Activities and resources are grounded in the results of countless numbers of research studies and teacher practices that have resulted in a substantial impact on student learning around the world.

This organizational guide can be used on its own, or as part of professional learning through The Core Collaborative. > Find out more

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Rigorous PBL by Design

Author: Michael McDowell, Ed.D.

The Rigorous PBL by Design Deep Dive workbook continues readers’ development in designing and implementing rigorous problem- and project-based learning. Having designed a series of project ideas that incorporated the three C’s, the Deep Dive workbook focuses on implementing the three C’s with students throughout the course of a project.

This organizational guide can be used on its own, or as part of professional learning through The Core Collaborative. > Find out more


Bring Rigorous PBL by Design®

to your School or System

Innovative and Impactful Instructional Practice

Educators often feel they are faced with the choice between using innovative instructional methods—such as problem and project-based learning—or reverting to traditional direct instruction methods. We desire more authentic and engaging methods to nurture children’s creativity and engagement, and yet worry whether students are gaining the content knowledge they need to think critically. 

This dichotomy is unnecessary. When PBL is designed and delivered effectively, it has the potential to provide the deepest and most lasting impact on learning, scaffolding for deep content knowledge, and critical thinking.



Michael McDowell, Ed.D.

Michael McDowell, Ed.D. serves as the superintendent of the Ross School District. During his tenure, the Ross School District has progressed to the top of California districts in relation to student connectedness and wellbeing as well as being in the top tier of districts in academic achievement and growth. Beyond academic achievement and social and emotional development, the Ross School District has emerged as a beacon for innovation, creating 65+ different electives from virtual game design to broadcast journalism, and sponsoring the first TEDxYouth event in the Bay Area. This district is also in the process of creating a service-learning and community engagement program for all students to serve the local and global community.

Prior to serving as a superintendent, Dr. McDowell was an associate superintendent of instructional and personnel services and a high school principal of a Title I and California Distinguished School. Before entering administration, he was a leadership and instructional coach consulting with schools, districts, higher educational institutions, and state departments on educational leadership, teaching leadership, and instruction. Additionally, Dr. McDowell has several years of teaching experience in middle and high school science and mathematics.

Dr. McDowell serves as the chair of the Advisory Board for One Percent of Education, charged with facilitating leading experts in shaping a national narrative for advancing public education. Additionally, Dr. McDowell serves on the School of Environmental Leadership board tasked with scaling innovation in secondary school environments. Furthermore, he is CEO of Hinge Education, LLC, supporting professional learning in educational systems around the world. He is an international presenter, speaking on instruction, learning, leadership, and innovation. He is an author and consultant with Corwin Press, providing services in problem- and project-based learning, teaching and learning, systems and site leadership, and the Visible Learning Series. He is the author of Rigorous PBL by Design: Three Key Shifts for Developing Confident and Competent Learners (2017); The Lead Learner: Increasing Clarity, Coherence and Capacity for All (2018); Developing Student Expertise: A Guide for Ensuring Students Excel to High Levels of Achievement and Beyond (2019); and Teaching for Transfer: A Guide for Designing Learning With Real-World Application (2020).

Previously, Dr. McDowell was a National Faculty member for the Buck Institute of Education and an advisor to educational organizations focused on equity, excellence, and innovation. His practical expertise in schools and systems is complimented by his scholarly approach to leadership, learning, and instruction. He holds a B.S., M.A., and Ed.D. and is currently completing coursework at the Harvard Business School. He and his wife, Quinn, live in Northern California with their two children, Harper and Asher.