Student Engagement

Powerful Classroom Lessons: It All Begins With the Hook

March 24, 2015
Illo of yellow lightbulb with a hook hanging under the base

How do you introduce new projects to your students? What is your hook? Great project-based learning begins with an engaging launch that grabs students' interest and pulls them in. Every project needs a hook.

In this excerpt from our new book, Transforming Schools Using Project-Based Learning, Performance Assessment, and Common Core Standards, we describe how my co-author Justin Wells introduces the Campaign Ad Project at an Envision high school:

All the eleventh and twelfth graders at the school are packed into the largest available classroom. It's one of the first days of the first semester, and the room crackles with the natural teenage energy that comes with the beginning of the school year. Students are catching up, giving hugs, jockeying for seats with friends. But there is also the energy of anticipation, both excited and anxious, which serves as a kind of hush on the buzz, much like the excited but restrained chatter that fills an auditorium before a big show.
Having been at the school for two or three years, the students know that this is an important event. In fact, for them it is difficult to imagine what their lives will be like for the next few months, until this meeting occurs. So there is inherent interest in what is about to take place.
Yet all that is about to be announced is an academic assignment. "Television has fundamentally changed American politics," announces one of the teachers. "As people who are about to be voters, you need to understand the role that television plays in helping you become an informed voter. And the best way to do that is for you to become television commercial makers yourselves. That's what this project is all about."
The lights go down, and the first in a queue of famous presidential campaign ads appears on the projector screen: "Ike for President, Ike for President . . . " The students chuckle over the corny melody and antiquated animation of Eisenhower's 1952 "spot" -- the first television campaign ad ever to appear in America. But they are hooked; all eyes are on the screen. We're only minutes into what will be a multi-month project, and already a major goal has been accomplished: The students will never look at a television campaign ad the same way again.

Have we "hooked" you into learning more? You're in luck, because we've got multiple resources to share.

You can learn more about "hook" and the rest of the project in this video that traces the Campaign Ad Project from kickoff to exhibition. Watch students collaborate on producing professional-quality, research-based political commercials. The Campaign Ad Project also serves as a case study throughout our PBL chapter in Transforming Schools; in it, Justin reflects on designing and implementing this rich project-based learning experience.

And finally, here is a project profile of the Campaign Ad Project (with more profiles like this on other content-rich projects that are in the book as well).

Project Profile: The Campaign Ad Project

The following is designed for eleventh and twelfth graders:

Driving Question: What does it take to change a voter's mind?

On Monday, November 3, the night before the upcoming election, your team will present a campaign television commercial on a specific California proposition to the registered voters of the school community. The purpose of your ad is to persuade your audience how to vote on your proposition in the election on the following day.
The major products that you will create for this project are:
  • A research brief on the issue or issues of your selected proposition
  • Focus group research, based on interviews you will conduct with the target voters of your campaign
  • Campaign commercial (30 seconds or less) on one of the ballot initiatives in the upcoming election (video is eligible for the graduation portfolio)
  • An argumentative essay that offers a sustained and evidence-based case for the position you advocate in your campaign ad, with a developed counterargument representing the opposing position (paper is eligible for the graduation portfolio).

For complete details, see Justin's website for the Campaign Ad Project. What are your thoughts and ideas on this post? What are ways you hook students into the learning? Please share in the comments section below.