Implementing Successful Project Based Learning Units

When implementing a successful Project Based Learning unit, there are several questions you need to ask yourself. What is your overall goal for the unit? What skills do you want to cover in the project? Does the project fit into your curriculum? And, is your unit really project based? Many times commonly used terms such as inquiry based learning, authentic learning, problem-solving... are confused with actual project based learning.

When implementing Project Based Learning, teachers and students can think about different types of challenges or problems.

Even though project learning relates to real world challenges or problems, the emphasis needs to be relevant to the students' lives. There are several different categories of project based learning that can be implemented:

1. School Related or Community

We had a third grade "Project" that we taught each year in which the students learned about the history of the Eanes community. They visited the Eanes History Center and that's it! Since I was the technology teacher, I wanted to take this project a step further. We studied foods that were popular during the pioneer time. Students learned about games the children played and how these are similar to ones children play today. The students broke into groups to do this research. Well, we wanted to dig even deeper... "Who is still living that could give us more information about the Eanes community?" And, "What can we give them in return?" What did we do? We invited residents from the local retirement home to visit and answer questions about the history of the Eanes community. Our students then taught the seniors basics in using the computer. This project started out as school related and ended up as a community related project.

When implementing Project Based Learning, teachers and students can think about different types of challenges or problems.
Borrowed from Eanes ISD History

2. Global Issue or Social Injustice

Through warm-up activities, I often ask students to keep a journal of questions they have about issues going on in the world; whether it's health related, political, environmental, etc. I often get ideas for a topic from these questions. Take a look at my Endangered Animals PBL and Save the Monarchs units. Students go in depth learning about these endangered animals and what people can do to save them.

This is an excellent TED Talk which shows how people can make a difference and create awareness of an issue. If this doesn't create enthusiasm for PBL, then nothing will!

 3. Economics and Innovations

Students love the idea of becoming entrepreneurs or owning a business. What does it take to become an entrepreneur? What is involved in opening a business? I actually have a former student who created her own business from her grandmother's lemonade recipe and she wanted to save the bee population. For more ideas about economics, take a look at The Chocolate Shop, Ice Cream Shop and Lemonade to Expresso.

When implementing Project Based Learning, teachers and students can think about different types of challenges or problems.

This young boy from Ghana is mature beyond his years. Richard invented a way to save the people in his village by preventing the lions from killing their livestock. He, like other inventors, went through the problem-solving process in coming up with his idea. Richard came up with the idea of using solar power to keep the lions away from their cattle.

4. Self 

My fourth graders participated in the "My Hero" online project. Students chose a hero and researched about this person. One student became so interested in the Children Against Mines Protection CHAMPS dogs, that she wanted to do more. Maxine's passion for the program led to our class became involved in learning more about land mines and the role of the dogs. The fourth graders wanted to raise money to purchase a mine sniffing dog that would be trained by Champs in San Antonio. To learn more about the dogs, a field trip was planned to visit the Champs training facility. Our students Skyped with students in Lebanon who were effected by these land mines. Then, the students created a presentation for parents and community members to raise funds. They even had a Dog Wash Day to raise money. The extra money they raised went toward a prosthesis for a child survivor.

This is a picture of Maxine interviewing the president of CHAMPS. Click on the image to learn more about Maxine's My Hero online project.

The students drove this project. We acted as facilitators and gave them the tools they needed to complete it. The tools involved technology, writing, problem-solving, and skills in working with leaders in our community.

For more ideas in implementing Project Based Learning into your curriculum, please visit my TPT store. Just click HERE.

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