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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Project Based Learning - Where Are Good Project Ideas?

Project Based Learning - Where Are Good Project Ideas?

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During the Fall months we often receive a great number of visitors both domestic and international to our school, High Tech Middle. Often people ask "What makes a good project?" Early on in my High Tech Career, I would probably have said a great deal about student engagement, content, rigor etc. But, those thoughts my early projects were lousy. When I first started teaching in a project based learning environment I was obsessed with planning and creating strict time lines for bench marks and worksheets to manage student outcomes. Not that this is bad, but I didn't allow projects to be critiqued by students before I started them. My early projects were well managed, had clear expectations but were, honestly, boring. I remember the at the end the year asking students to take home their projects and they asked, "can we throw them away?" At first I was saddened and said "I will keep them," but later found myself sneaking to the dumpster after school to throw them away.Some of by best or most loved projects are the ones that started as a simple idea; not complex and easy to articulate by both students and teachers.I now do small focus groups with projects ideas and pitches to get student input before launching them. I visualize the end product and then ask myself, would I keep this? If you ask me what makes a good project now I would say, "If it's not worth putting in my own home or on my coffee table, I don't do it. Projects should make people say wow, students did that?" My latest project took only three weeks to complete; is simple in design, with minimal project guide lines.The expectations were clear; create a worst case scenario book for early English Colonist to the New World. The book students are writing reflects their understanding of the life and challenges of Early English Colonist as well as an understanding of climate, geography and resources of the North Eastern United States. I didn't have to lecture or give long boring worksheets. They students were motivated to find the answers to questions such as, how to remove an arrow from your flesh, how to purify water, how to make candles and how to survive if lost at sea. Many of the students wanted to build the models to gain an understanding of how things really work. We had tee-pees in front of the school, students chipping away at arrowheads and students drying and preserving beef. The writing of this book allowed us to discuss writing clear, concise instructions and how to focus on a particular audience. Over all the class had a great time doing the work. I am proud of the project and the outcome. The student's New World Survival Handbook comes out on Amazon at the end of November. I still ask myself what are good project ideas? But now I know what I want, something I would put on my coffee table.

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Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate
Blogger

Hi Azul,
I was one of those visitors just last week (with the Buck Institute for Education National Faculty), and thoroughly enjoyed my first trip to High Tech High. Not only were the projects inspiring (I love the worst-case scenario guide for Colonists!), but students were so able to articulate why they were doing them and why they matter. Just wonderful.
Thanks for sharing your insights here.
Best,
Suzie

cindy hufft's picture
cindy hufft
8th grade teacher from texas

I am looking for good ideas on Astronomy-based projects.

Azul Terronez's picture
Azul Terronez
8th Grade Humanities Teacher, High Tech Middle - San Diego, CA

Dear Cindy,
I am not a guru of Astronomy, but what I do know about PBL is that you need to find something that intrigues or interests you. If you find an area of Astronomy you find particularly fascinating, gravitate towards that topic. Consider combining interest of your students or "customers" as I call them. Get their feed back as to what interest them. If they are not interested in Astronomy, then ask what types of things they are interested in. If they are interested in art, for example, think of ways to combine art with your passion in astronomy. Use their general desire to learn and your interest to drive the project. Looking for a good project idea is probably already in your heart and mind.
Good Luck

Azul Terronez's picture
Azul Terronez
8th Grade Humanities Teacher, High Tech Middle - San Diego, CA

Suzie,
Thank you for visiting our school. I am excited about our last publication also. The Adventures of the 7th Grade Mind, I Am an Author. It's a collection of their best student written/edited writer's workshop pieces, available soon. I will send you a copy if you are interested.
Azul

Allen Berg's picture
Allen Berg
curriculum and projects learning centers

Dear Cindy,

These are Astronomy internet resources posted previously here at our Project-Based Learning Teachers Group from May 25, 2011...

Astronomy PBL Resources by Allen Berg, Edutopia.org

1.Moon Express, Inc. as a suggested PBL Collaboration..
Posted at Edutopia PBL Group on 5/25/2011
http://www.edutopia.org/groups/project-based-learning/55787

2.http://www.moonexpress.com/

3. Carl Sagan's "Pale Blue Dot" youtube video at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7C8lG9L4XDk&NR=1

4. Giant Leaps: A video about the legacy of the first moon landing
http://libraries.mit.edu/amps/portfolio/giantleaps.html

5. A basic online encyclopedia about the moon...
http://www.universetoday.com/19424/the-moon/

6.My wikispace: http://hsgeometryadventure.wikispaces.com
Scroll down the left column of alphabetical pages until you find "Astronomy..."
There are the following pages that have lots of Discovery Learning Projects and many other internet educational astronomy links:
1.Astronomy - Messier Chart
2.Astronomy - Very Large Telescope
3.Astronomy -- Constellations
4.Astronomy -- Galaxies
5.Astronomy -- Hands-on Universe
6.Astronomy -- IMax Saturn Spaceship Flyby...
7.Astronomy -- Night Sky Map
8.Astronomy -- Orrery Solar System Kit
9.Astronomy Picture of the Day

6. Kids Astronomy website has specific lessons with questions and student research topics and assignment guidelines.
http://www.kidsastronomy.com/academy/index.htm

These can get you started with your own research and ideas and topics for students to consider...you can pick and choose and explore further, based on the grade level of your students and your own questions of interest..

If you want more information or links contact me at Edutopia via my Profile message center...

Allen Berg: "We are all made of star stuff", living on the Pale Blue Dot: our Home Planet: Earth...

Jeff horwitz's picture

I use PBL to teach my second graders about community year long through four projects. Our latest was to create something to recruit families to our school for our admissions dept. no we are creating a kid generated tour around St. Louis for the visitors board. Any other elem. PBLers out there?

John Bennett's picture
John Bennett
Emeritus Faculty in the School of Engineering / University of Connecticut

A few thoughts:

1. Get extra copies of local newspapers (I'd hope local papers would give day old copies; otherwise distribute sections of a Sunday paper or get the free - usually - local college papers) and ask students to find a need to be filled or problem to be solved.

2. Ask the students to help identify needs or problems within the school or community.

3. Ask the students to think of favorite things they'd like to have or be able to do.

4. Ask the students to find an alternative use for some existing product.

Note the common phrase "ask the students" in these suggestions. Builds buy-in and thus stimulating motivation (and thus enhancing effective learning).

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