George Lucas Educational Foundation

New Year, New Projects

New Year, New Projects

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What new projects are you planning for 2012? Anyone piggybacking on the Presidential election for a social studies, English, media, or math/statistics project? By comparing notes with others in this community, you may find some new collaborators or resources you hadn't considered. And if you're new to PBL, this is a good place to connect with veterans who can offer feedback to improve your project plans. So, please tell us about your ideas to ignite learning in the new year.

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Pam Rickard's picture
Pam Rickard
7th grade biology teacher in Lompoc, CA

One of the reasons I've been reluctant to do problem based learning is the rigorous content I feel my students need to at least be exposed to before entering high school. The thought of "letting students choose" what they want to learn perplexed me. I thought how can I cover the content in this way. So I continued with the typical stand and deliver method to cover content.

What I'm doing now, I feel, is allowing me to bring an element of inquiry into the classroom while still covering content. When I assign research topics, I do not consider that inquiry. When I assign a lab in which students design an experiment, that I consider "partial inquiry."

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

A few thoughts on you post, Pam:

1. With regard to student engagement, it's not suggested to give the students complete control. Choose the project leading question such that they will propose projects fitting with the important content areas. Then, when they submit their proposals, mold them in conversations with the group to again align with intended content (note I didn't say change it yourself but help the do the changes - and ask for a new proposal if totally off).

2. With regard to that rigorous content, may I suggest direct efforts to sort out the CORE KNOWLEDGE from the rigorous content. I define core knowledge as that knowledge necessary to talk with others, ask questions, and be able to work with the answers (NOT I'd suggest the appropriate standards necessarily). Spend time on core knowledge content (but maybe not as much as you may think). The inquiry will firm up the core knowledge, motivate the effective learning of the remaining rigorous content (and more), and help them learn how to organize inquiry.

3. May I suggest that ALL lab work will be better if it's full inquiry.

4. Finally, if you are reluctant with inquiry, try it with a few topics at first and expand from there. Don't be concerned with not having all the answers - learn with your students; they'll love it!

I detected concern about covering material with at least a small concern about facilitating inquiry. I'm sure you know more than the core knowledge and so relax and enjoy the experiences. If I'm wrong about these inferences, my apologies ...

Pam Rickard's picture
Pam Rickard
7th grade biology teacher in Lompoc, CA

I was reading Ramsey Musallam's Flip Teaching website today and noticed he uses the phrase "guided inquiry." I think that better describes what I'm doing in my classroom regarding lab.

Again, I posted here looking for ideas for inquiry labs. If anyone has any, I'd love to hear them.

Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate

Hi Pam,
A couple resources you might find useful:
West Virginia has an extensive library of projects, which are searchable by grade level and subject area. Here's one that deals with genetics, introducing the topic with a "baby face lab" to introduce key concepts(handouts included).
The Exploratorium is another good site for inquiry ideas. Here's their resource page:
Hope these are useful.

Pam Rickard's picture
Pam Rickard
7th grade biology teacher in Lompoc, CA

Wow, I really like the Baby Face Lab. This could work. Thanks a bunch!

Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate

You bet! And here's one more idea, The Human Genetics Project from CIESE. Students contribute data to an online data set, make predictions, test them, etc.
It's free to join, and looks like it appeals to your grade level.
More details:

Bill Kuhl's picture

I have been working on a simple model wind turbine design. Plan to have this as an article on my website in the future.

Jason Janczak's picture

Hi all!
Motivated by what I have read on Edutopia, I have taken the plunge into the world of PBL with my honors level senior US Government class. Students will be creating an online voter guide for first-time voters (of which many of them will be). This will be headed up by a project manager, and then a few teams will also be created (Web design, research for national candidates, research for local candidates) and centered around the driving question of "what do you think a young first time voter needs to know in order to make an informed decision?"

The website for the project is here: and I would love to get your feedback on it!

I am nervous and excited all at the same time about this project!

Suzie Boss's picture
Suzie Boss
Journalist and PBL advocate

Hi Jason,
This is a great project idea--so relevant for students about to vote for the first time. How's it going? Have you had your candidates fair yet? How are students responding?

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

One of the things my kids have done in their middle school biology classes is compared family characteristics and genetic traits- who has what blood type? Who has straight or curly hair? Who can curl their tongue and who can't? How much do you look like Mom or Dad or your sibling? These sorts of things (and it's even interesting in our family because there have been divorces and adoptions so we can talk about genetic versus acquired characteristics) have helped our kids understand genetics in a more personal way. It just helps to bring some of that stuff into a more tangible context. Then talking about even cellular reproduction, you can talk about cells that are duplicates, and even where errors can be made during the cell reproductive process, and how variances and specializations can occur- it's really fascinating, but the trick is to make the stuff personal and meaningful as well as project based.

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