Project-Based Learning Workshop Activities
Hands-on lessons you can adapt for your PBL workshops.
Now that you've established the basics of PBL, you're ready for part two. On this page, you will find a wide range of activities that will get workshop participants thinking and talking about PBL.1. Prepare Participants for Critical Viewing of Case Study Videos
Before watching a set of videos that demonstrate PBL at work, ask participants, "What questions do you have about good PBL projects that might be answered by looking carefully at a video of students working on a project?"
Suggest that participants view the videos shown with particular questions in mind. For example, they can be asked to watch the Newsome Park video while looking for evidence of how students were included in developing a key question for a project.2. Watch Case Study Videos
Choose a video from the following list to share with class participants, based on their grade level interest. There are links to accompanying articles from the video pages for more information.
- Lower Elementary: Worm Project at Newsome Park Elementary School in Newport News, VA
- Upper Elementary: Water Wheel Project at Ferryway School in Malden, MA
- Middle School: Soil Superheroes Project at King Middle School in Portland, ME
- High School: African Wildlife DNA Project at High Tech High in San Diego, CA
After a brief small-group discussion and reflection, engage the larger group of participants in conversation about what they saw. Ideas for post-viewing questions include:
- "What steps did the students take to work on their project?"
- "What curriculum standards did the students meet through work on their project?"
- "What is the role of the teacher in PBL?"
Ask participants, "What do the experts have to say about the effectiveness of PBL activities?"
- Introduce participants to the article PBL: What Experts Say on Edutopia.org
- Suggest that small groups (2-4 participants) read and talk about the questions and responses of one expert, or assign particular experts to small groups. There are several options: focus on national experts such as Seymour Papert or Sylvia Chard, concentrate on individual school personnel (principals and/or teachers and/or students), or assign two or more experts within a category so participants can compare and contrast their comments.
- Suggest that participants conduct external research on their expert to see what else he or she has to say about PBL.
- Have the small groups present their findings to the large group. Participants may develop a PowerPoint presentation, role-play an interview, or report their findings in other ways.
Rural Washington Students Connect with the World: First and second graders sent comfort quilts to hurricane victims in Puerto Rico and to sick children in Pakistan as part of one iEARN project.
Credit: Kristi Rennebohm Franz
Ask participants, "What makes a project a good one?" and then follow these steps:
- Suggest that participants think about projects they may have conducted, are thinking about conducting, or have seen others conduct.
- Show the video Applying Math Skills to a Real-World Problem.
- Ask participants to talk in small groups about what evidence they saw of a good project (for example, the project revolved around a real-world topic; students were involved in project definition by suggesting questions; experts were included).
- Solicit ideas from the whole group, and start a list of criteria for good projects on a flip chart or other media (so criteria can be added as more learning about good projects takes place).
- View another Edutopia.org video featuring a class at a different grade level and talk about the differences (if any) in criteria for a good project based on the age and experience of the students. Many additional videos about PBL can be found in the Resources for PBL section of this guide, or on Edutopia.org's Video Library page (in the "Select a Topic" pull-down menu, choose "Project-Based Learning," then click on "Apply"; you may also filter your results by grade level).
In the What Is PBL About? section of this professional development guide, the work of education researcher Sylvia Chard is cited. Chard, who defines project learning as "an in-depth investigation of a real-world topic worthy of children's attention and effort," has developed the Project Approach, a website that explores project learning and suggests good practices. Introduce participants to Chard's work by following these steps:
- Show Project Approach to the class, have them read the About page, and review the site's main topics with them.
- Divide the class into several groups and assign them to look at the Theory, Planning, and Learning and Teaching sections and prepare to report to the class about their assigned section. Each section includes several parts, so suggest that one or more members of each group study each part.
- To finish this assignment, all small groups should explore a few project examples, based on their grade level interest.
- Have participants share the most interesting things they learned or saw with the rest of the group.
The importance of helping students identify and ask good questions is explored in the What Is PBL About? section of this professional development guide.
From Now On, a website published by educational-technology champion Jamie McKenzie, offers a wide array of ideas for good teaching and learning. Key to many of them is a good guiding question -- how to recognize one, how to develop one for students, and how to help students develop their own. To guarantee effective PBL, it is essential that the starting point is a good question. To explore this idea with the class, follow these steps:
- Have participants go to McKenzie's article "The Question is the Answer".
- Assign individuals or small groups to read, review, and discuss different parts of the article.
- Have individuals or small groups share their findings with the class.
- Conclude with a general discussion on what makes a good PBL question.
For a number of years, education scholar Judi Harris and her graduate students studied how teachers were using the Internet. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) published the results in Virtual Architecture, a book written by Harris, who has also maintained a website by that name that highlights key findings and provides links to a variety of project examples. To help your students become more familiar with Harris's work, follow these steps:
- Direct participants to visit Harris's website and explore the various sections.
- Have participants explore the links to projects found in Curriculum-Based Telecomputing Projects & Resources, according to their interests. The projects cover a range of ages, grades, subject areas, and purposes.
- Ask participants to identify three projects they find most interesting and thoroughly explore those projects.
- Have participants describe what they found to the class.
Here are more ideas for using the wealth of resources on Edutopia.org in your class:
- Show Edutopia.org to the participants.
- Suggest that they visit the Project-Based Learning Core Strategy page and explore the articles and videos under the heading "Real-Life Examples."
- Have participants divide into small groups to read various articles and view their accompanying videos. See the list in the Readings and Viewings section in the Resources for PBL section for additional PBL article and video suggestions.
- Have participants share what they saw with the larger group.
- Encourage participants to join the PBL Discussion Group in the Edutopia.org community.
Ask participants: "How will you evaluate student projects?" Being able to evaluate the effectiveness of projects in terms of student learning is key to their success, as well as to whether the time and energy put into developing projects is worthwhile. A number of websites provide links to rubrics sites. For example, see Kathy Schrock's Guide for Educators, on DiscoverySchool.com. To familiarize participants with rubrics, follow these steps:
- Have participants explore the Web sites RubiStar and Project-Based Learning Checklists.
- Ask participants to talk about the pros and cons of the kinds of rubrics that can be developed.
- Direct participants to develop a sample rubric based on their research.
- Have participants share their work with the whole group when they are finished.
- Review Edutopia.org's Assessment Teaching Module, which explores a variety of forms of assessment, including rubrics, and their use in evaluating PBL activities.
- Direct participants to visit Edutopia.org's Comprehensive Assessment Core Strategy page for more information about assessment.
Ask participants: "What ideas do you have for a project?" This activity can be divided into a number of sections. For example, before actually creating a project, participants might share their own project ideas:
- Have small groups discuss new project ideas.
- Have participants speculate.
- Have them create, discussing what they will imagine, how they will prepare, and how they will mentor.
Participants might then be asked to brainstorm effective questions. Have them
- share ideas for essential questions.
- reflect on the standards that will be addressed.
- talk about subjects that can be woven into the process.
- create concept maps illustrating the brainstorming process.
- share their concept maps with the rest of the group.
When participants are ready to develop their own projects, have them review Sylvia Chard's Project Approach planning structure. Participants can then begin to plan their projects and fill in the project template. This template should be used as a planning tool, providing formative evaluation as the project progresses. Part of the "Evaluating the Experience" step will be to suggest what might be done differently in the future to make the project more effective.
Continue to the next section of the guide, Resources for PBL.