Engage your students, deepen learning, and impact the community by using a project that’s been done before.

There I was, Friday morning, thirty minutes before my first exhibition of student learning. Materials were spread haphazardly across the room with several students fighting over the lone glue gun to piece together the remaining parts of their model civilizations. I was tempted to can the whole project but parents would be in the room in thirty minutes. What choice did I have?

Most groups weren’t ready; academic content was severely lacking; and I didn’t even have a viable project plan.

It was my first project, and it was a disaster. Thank god for second chances.

In humility I went to the Humanities teaching veteran across the street for some advice. Like a true PBL ninja, instead of providing it, she gave me an alternative project and a simple directive- “Go make it your own.”

So I did.

‘The Museum of Me’

The ‘Museum of Me’ project was an immediate success. The project asked students to act as archeologists, historians and anthropologists in order to construct miniature museums of their classmates. In the process, they learned how to date and classify artifacts; construct historical narratives; and analyze primary and secondary sources.

The project had just the right balance of imagination, rigor and engagement.

The Fast Track to PBL Success

Are you new to project- based learning? Have you tried PBL, but like my 25 year- old self, experienced more frustration than you have success?

It’s understandable. Project- based learning has a ton of moving parts that take years of practice to master. But there’s a faster route to finding success with it: borrow an idea and make it your own.

Like Pablo Picasso once famously said, “Good artists borrow. Great artists steal.”

Starting with a project that’s been done before will allow you to:

  • More easily move into the role of project facilitator
  • Provide students with models of success
  • Get project collaborators on board early on
  • Scaffold learning for students
  • Learn from the mistakes and triumphs of others

Where do you find great project ideas?

I have found the following places to be great repositories for project ideas. You can refine your search based on your grade level, subject and area of study:

Expeditionary Learning Projects
High Tech High Projects
PBL Work Projects

Once you have found a great project to steal (I mean borrow), run it by your most challenging students and invite their input.