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At Designed for Learning, we believe learning is a lifelong endeavor. We’re here to equip educators and district leaders with the knowledge and skills they need to create high-impact learning environments that are active, personalized, and innovative. Through our unique design approach, we partner with you to create short and long-term professional learning experiences to help all educators build necessary skills and embrace their strengths so they can teach, coach, or lead with more impact and intention.
Project Based Learning (PBL) is arguably one of the best available teaching methods to help prepare students for the real world. Not only do students learn meaningful and relevant content, but they also get to develop workplace readiness skills that will set them up for success in life. Some of these skills are commonly known as the four Cs (creativity, critical thinking, communication, and collaboration) and are intentionally integrated into the PBL framework. While there are many different variations of Project Based Learning, this is the process that I have found to be most effective:
Below you’ll find 7 examples of project based learning that require students to go through this process to some degree, depending on the age of the students, and the content of the topic. I tried to provide a wide range of project types, grade levels, and subject areas to demonstrate how Project Based Learning can be both dynamic and versatile. Hopefully after reading this post, you will be able to replicate at least one of these PBL assignments in your own class, or modify it to meet the needs of your students.
Grade Level: 6-12
Content Area: Language Arts, any other subject
Description: In this example of project based learning, students select a topic that they are either passionate about, or curious about that will sustain their interest and focus throughout the project. A teacher provides students with dedicated time and space during the school day to work on a self-led, independent project of their choice. A project proposal and elevator pitch are unique deliverables for this project. Students must produce a product, perform a service, or bring awareness about a topic. The project culminates after each student gives a five-minute presentation to the school on their topic in the style of a TED Talk.
Grade Level: 6th grade
Content Area: Science, Math, Social Studies
Description: Students are confronted with the sudden realization that their school is using too much electricity. Together, they must work in teams to solve the energy crisis problem at their school. Students create a driving question that will carry them throughout the project. Each team researches and learns about fossil fuels, renewable energy, and alternative energy sources. After being provided real data from the school, each group of students creates their own solution to the problem and presents their ideas to local community members.
Grade Level: Grades 5-6
Content Area: Math, Art, Social Studies, Technology
Description: In this challenge, students are contractors who are tasked with creating a floor plan for an imaginary client. The client has demands for the total number of rooms and square feet. To complicate things, students will also have constraints of floor plan cost and distance to work from the building site. Students are presented with different client scenarios in order to design a custom floor plan to meet the unique needs of their client. Students will research cost per square foot in different locations, and apply their knowledge and understanding of perimeter and area. Finally, students will use online tools to ultimately design a home for their client.
Grade Level: Grades 4-5
Content Area: Math, Technology, PE
Description: Childhood obesity is a serious problem in the United States, putting students at risk for poor health. It is the hope that by empowering students to track their own fitness, they will learn to make healthy life choices, and form sustainable physical activity habits. In this project, students answer the essential question, “How can we use technology to record, track, graph, and analyze our own fitness data over time?” In PE class, students measure their heart rate (with heart rate monitors if possible) to collect data for at least a month. Then they use Google Sheets to analyze their data. Students learn how to use functions, create graphs, and apply conditional formatting rules to analyze their target heart rate zones. Finally, students present their findings on their own heart rate data.
Resources: In The Zone Folder
Grade Level: Grades 6-12
Content Area: Career & Technical Education (CTE), Math
Description: In this example of project based learning, the driving question is, “How might we plan, prepare, cook, and serve a healthy lunch meal.” The teacher plans and organizes a student chef competition, modeled on the popular TV show Iron Chef, featuring entrees that meet USDA guidelines. Each team requires a head chef, sous chefs and a spokesperson. Get local restaurant owners to judge based on taste, presentation, and creativity just like the professional contest and feature winning entrees on the school lunch menu. If CTE is not present at your school, it can be done in math class due to the measuring and calculation that is used to create the meals.
Grade Level: Grades 8-12
Content Area: Social Studies
Description: For this project, students choose a social injustice topic where the five principles of social justice are not met. Students can work individually or in small groups to write a short proposal for the topic they want to research, indicating why it is a social justice issue. Then, they craft a driving question, perform active research, and create a video project in the style of a documentary to demonstrate their learning and understanding to a local or broader audience stating how we can take action.
Grade Level: Grades 6-12
Content Area: Career & Technical Education (CTE), Math
Description: Modeled after the hit TV show, Shark Tank, students create a fictional good or a service and pitch their idea to “sharks” who are volunteer local business owners. Students perform market research, analyze various costs associated with their business, provide a prototype, and create a marketing strategy that would have a high return on investment. The sharks ask questions to the students, provide feedback, and constructive criticism, while the students use data and persuasion to hopefully land a deal with a shark. In this project, students learn about business, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy.
As a reminder, all of these examples can be modified to meet a desired grade level and content area. As you reflect on these examples of project based learning, I challenge you to ask yourself which of these projects you can see yourself implementing in your own classroom. Or better yet, maybe one of these examples sparked an idea for you to craft your own PBL assignment with your students.
One thing that I have learned over the 14 years I have spent in education, is that the more relevant the topic, and the more authentic the audience, the more meaningful the project is for students. I have also learned that the more student agency I provide in these projects, the more intrinsic motivation students have to do their best work. And finally, if you set high expectations for your students, and focus on the process more than the product, you will be setting your students up for success in your class, and in life.
Bradley Lands is the Director of Technology and Innovation at an independent school in Northern Virginia. He is a passionate leader who strives to provide students with the skills they will need to become lifelong learners, and creative problem solvers in our global society.
Brad graduated from James Madison University with a B.S. and a M.A.T., and graduated from Virginia Tech with an Ed.S. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. Brad has a background in STEAM education and began his career as a sixth-grade math and science teacher. He later became certified in Career and Technical Education (CTE) for grades K-12 and taught middle school technology classes for one year. This eventually led him to transition into the role of an Instructional Technology Coach where he found his calling in the field of educational technology.
Brad is a Google for Education Certified Innovator, a Google for Education Certified Trainer, an Apple Distinguished Educator, a Siemens STEM Institute Fellow, and a National Board Certified Teacher in Technology Education.