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[Courseware Feature Focus] Our New Project-Based Learning Activities

[Courseware Feature Focus] Our New Project-Based Learning Activities

Project-based learning (PBL) involves a wide variety of activities where students use their investigative and academic research skills to ultimately solve a real-world problem. We’ve had educators ask us for examples of PBL activities that they can implement in their classrooms: “What do PBL activities look like? “How can I make researching solutions to problems engaging for my students?” We realize that the curiosity regarding PBL activities is widespread, so this fall, Edmentum introduced our very own collection of PBL activities in Courseware!

We designed our STEM PBL activities with the goal of cultivating 21st century workplace skills, helping students develop higher-order thinking (get students creating!), increasing student agency, and ultimately, providing opportunities for sustained inquiry.

Each of our engaging 14 PBL STEM activities are available as a resource through Courseware’s Custom Course Builder and Flex Assignments and is meant to be an extended project to be completed over several weeks. These projects are divided into several sections, so that teachers have opportunities to guide students’ work and provide feedback.  The end result of these activities will be a final project that the student (or student group) gets to present to explain a real-world problem and the solutions that the student has discovered along the way.

Let’s discuss how these PBL activities are structured and what real-world applications students can take away from working through them.  

The Essential Question

All of our PBL projects are similar in structure. We begin with an essential question that will be the guiding force for student learning. For example, in the Become a Martian! activity aligned to space science, the essential question asks: How would humans go about choosing another planet to inhabit, and how would they plan for colonization on the chosen planet?

Too otherworldly? How about something closer to Earth, like the Invasive Pythons activity aligned to biology, which asks the question: How can information about a specific invasive species problem and possible solutions to this problem be conveyed using data and text? Or, maybe try a more public-awareness-related question like the Asthma Awareness: Breathing Easier activity that asks: How can statistics and data about asthma be conveyed accurately and in a way that is interesting to a community audience?

While these broad questions require an open mind (and a dose of creativity), they’re also tied to real-world problems. We wanted to create engaging PBL activities that were not only fun and thought-provoking but were also ways for students to connect what they learn in class to actual careers so that they can ask themselves, “If I’m actually interested in this topic, what kinds of jobs could I find to continue doing this for a living?”

Research and Feedback

While ideas and creativity are important to solving real-world problems, students also need to be able to research facts to back up their solutions. In these PBL activities, students are guided along the research process by first being introduced to the concept of finding and evaluating valid research sources. This, of course, includes how to make effective Web searches—a skill that will be helpful as they finish high school and enter college or the workforce.

As students continue their research and come up with countless way to problem-solve their essential questions, they will encounter knowledge checks in the form of technology-enhanced (TE) questions, engaging videos and simulations, and graded activities for instructor feedback. Both the instructor and the student will have access to the same feedback checklist, as it is important for us to ensure that everyone involved has clearly defined success criteria made available to them. 

The Final Project  

Eventually, the projects will shift from a phase of research and analysis to the step where students are beginning to design their final projects. We want students to think about all of the research they’ve gathered, organize what they’ve learned, and turn it into a message for their audience. But, they won’t have to do this alone. Plenty of scaffolding is built into these projects to help students understand the different aspects of what their project will entail and to provide guidance on what their final presentation should look like.

For instructors, there are plenty of opportunities to provide feedback every step of the way. At the end of the project, we want students to reflect on their learning and connect the projects they worked on with other courses they’re taking, ultimately driving home the point that PBL activities often apply to other facets of their learning.  There are also resources to help teachers differentiate activities for learners at all levels, to customize projects to align to different core subjects, and to support learners in classroom, blended or virtual learning environments.

Interested in more PBL resources? Take a look at this quick-start guide to PBL, and then learn what bees can teach us about friction, resilience, and PBL for effective personalized learning!

peter.grimm's picture

Peter Grimm serves as Edmentum's Director of Academy Program Development. Before joining Edmentum, he served as a teaching and learning director in Minnesota, capping a 27-year career in public education. Peter holds an Ed.S. in K-12 Administration from Concordia University and an M.S. in Educational Psychology from the University of Minnesota.