They say the first week of school sets the tone for the entire school year.

And while it is important to use the 1st week to review classroom routines, formulate agreements, set expectations, establish goals, and review policies, it’s FAR more effective to establish a culture that empowers students to do this themselves.

Above are 25+ Teachers who will ignite curiosity in their learners from Day One with authentic project-based experiences.

Some will launch the year with an amusement park design project, and integrate geometry/physics concepts; some will begin w/ a fitness plan project to improve performance in their school athletes, and integrate health/science; and others will kick off the year with a ‘utopian Guatemala society’ project, and integrate principles of archeology and the study of past cultures.

These teachers understand that there is no better way to create a culture of reflection and empowerment than through real projects.

How will you engage/empower your learners during the first week of school? 

Below are some dead easy project ideas for you to kick 🦶off your new year.

Idea #1: Classroom/Playground Design Project

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What if instead of organizing your classroom or playground according to your tastes and preferences, you allowed students to co-design it with theirs?

Start Day One with tables, chairs and materials moved to all sides of the room. In the front of the classroom, write this provocative question across the board:

Driving Question: How can we design an inclusive, imaginative and inquiry-based classroom/playground on a limited budget? 

Divide students into small teams and provide them butcher paper, a single computer, markers and pens, and give them the class period and/ or an entire week to generate and present their plans. Use the design thinking process to help them work through their ideas, and Google Sketch Up for each team to visualize it in action. Finish with short presentations and vote on your favourite. Here is a video of elementary school students completing this project for inspiration.

Idea #2: Classroom ‘Social Contract’ Equity Project

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What if instead of handing students a syllabus of classroom expectations, norms, grading policies, and behaviour expectations, you had students generate these themselves?

These ‘social contracts’ have been around for 200+ years and are a great way for students to dive into bigger themes of equity and individual rights. Here is the driving question to guide the creation of it:

Driving Question: What agreements will help us create an equitable, engaging and productive classroom environment?

Start the project by looking at model social contracts, and work with students to uncover the various pieces. Next, divide students into small groups based on the particular rights that they wish to defend, and then have them write out the proposed agreement using precise language. Next, run a mock ‘congress’ with the class to turn these agreements into official classroom law; the whole time teaching about processes of government.

Idea #3: ‘Cooking for Connection’ Classroom Community Project

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What if students’ first assignment was not to get the classroom syllabus signed, but instead, to cook with their families?

This is the way Alexa Lepp, a district wide instructional coach created developed a connected classroom community in her first week with 5th graders. Her provocation:

Driving Question: How can food bring families together in a time of crisis?

Start the project with a giant map, string, thumbtacks, and post-its with students identifying their favorite foods from around the world. Next, explore a few of their favourites, and work to uncover the cultural stories, and community impact behind each of them. Give them a week to create their own class digital cookbook of meals and stories from their families. Exhibit at the end of the week with a big FEAST to celebrate the community! Here is an example of Alexa’s Fifth Grade digital Cookbook.

Idea #4: Creating our Class Community Website

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What if instead of building a static web page buried in your district’s server, you co-designed a dynamic class website with students to build community?

This is the project Sara Lev used to empower her transitional kindergarteners during the first weeks of school. Her provocation:

Driving Question: What can we do to get to know each other and create our classroom community?

Begin by exploring what community means with students examining their role in their own communities; sharing a bit about their families, themselves, and their homes. Next, have them examine the role of place and space through mapping their favourite room or nearby neighbourhood. Have them create short narratives around what makes their community unique. Finally, task students with compiling all of these elements together in a dynamic website, print book or ebook. Allow students to decide on the website/ book producers; from graphic designers to content editors. Finish with a website/ebook LAUNCH PARTY 🎉 , and use it to feature projects completed throughout the year. Here is the full project overview created by the incomparable Sara Lev.

Idea #5: Socially Distanced Mental, Physical, and Emotional Health Plans Project

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What if instead of devising students’ social, emotional and physical wellness plan for the week, you allowed them to devise their own?

With Covid-19 forcing many of our students into socially distanced environments, nothing could be more important than maintaining their physical, emotional and mental health. Here is the question to drive the project:

Driving Question: How can we maintain our physical, mental and emotional well-being in socially distanced environments?

Begin with students examining the effects of socially distanced environments on their well-being. Examine case studies, primary research and interactive stories that have surfaced from this year. Next, have students target specific aspects of their own well-being that have been effected. Finally, allow them to devise a simple weekly well-being plan to complete at home to address these aspects. Task students with filming their at home workouts, meditations, nature walks, and other interventions and sharing in a public digital space to inspire other learners their age!

Get Help with Building Your Own Project-Based Experience!

The greatest takeaway for me during this entire pandemic is the importance of community. While it’s possible to build something alone, we are so much stronger when we build something together.

If you want a community to support you while designing your project-based experience, including driving question, milestones, assessments and outcomes, I am running a design certificate course where you will learn alongside a small cohort of other educators. You can learn more and sign up here:

Project-Based Learning Design Certificate Course

Thank you, Kyle, for this engaging PBL  sessions, you shared a lot of great ideas, solutions, guidance, and a lot of positive energy!! I am glad to read the teachers’ reflections and know that these PD sessions had a positive and meaningful learning impact in our community. I hope to see PBL applications that will make our students’ learning transcend beyond our classes!