3 Project-Based Learning Ideas for Your Classroom

Read the material. Memorize answers. Ace the test.

This formula is the way many people grew up learning. Project-based learning activities turn that method on its head to personalize education and give it a real-world edge. Also referred to as PBL, project-based learning, is a student-centered approach to education and is based on the belief that students will learn better through active participation and experiences.

PBL shifts away from a teacher-centered model and encourages students to learn by doing. Students’ questions and creativity often guide the instruction. Project-based learning allows students to gain knowledge and skills that will serve them well in college and life. It also serves as an excellent opportunity for educators and students to excel outside of the classroom.

The National Education Association stated, “In the classroom, PBL gives teachers an opportunity to build relationships with students by acting as their coach, facilitator, and co-learner. In the school and beyond, the model further allows teachers opportunities to build relationships among colleagues and with those in the larger community.” 

The approach doesn’t treat learning as a subject-by-subject process. Because actual problems are rarely solved using just one subject, project-based learning is often interdisciplinary. Students learn and use knowledge from multiple subject areas in order to navigate the PBL experience.

Project-based learning is not centered around the recall of memorized information and instead focuses on application, making it complex and involved. There are many project-based learning examples for teachers to explore that range in duration and subject matter. Here are three project-based learning ideas you can adapt and use in your classroom.

1. Plant a School Garden

A school garden is a fantastic opportunity for students of all ages to gain hands-on knowledge about growing food. Students can learn the science of plants and nutrition and observe nature up close. In general, this project-based learning activity will follow this flow:

  1. Determine what plants you’ll grow. Include your students in researching types of plants and how they thrive.
  2. Map the goals of your garden. Define what you want to achieve. If the class wants to create a harvest of vegetables and fruits for all students to bring home, you’ll plan differently than if they hope to supply one or two foods to the school cafeteria.
  3. Start your seedlings. You’ll likely start the seedlings indoors. If you live in a warm climate where gardening can be done year-round, simply determine the growing window for the type of plants you pick.
  4. Plant your seedlings. Be sure your students research the proper way to plant the garden. This is an excellent time to invite parents in to help.
  5. Monitor growth & care for the garden. Monitor the changes in the plants and what works and doesn’t in terms of growth. Depending on your students’ ages, have them keep a growth journal or create art based on how the garden looks at a point in time.
  6. Harvest your food. Your students will see the literal fruits of their labor when it’s time to harvest the food they’ve grown.

A school garden is fun, but it’s also effective for academic achievement. According to a Rutgers’ study, students who engage in school gardens show significant gains in their GPA, specifically in math and science. A garden can teach lessons that span many subjects from science to art, depending on what activities you decide to base off the garden. It’s also a great opportunity to teach the importance of good nutrition, physical activity, and caring for our environment.

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2. Pitch a Business Idea

Project-based learning activities are meant to develop real-world skills. Students who create their own company use their creativity to learn about entrepreneurship and working with others. This project-based learning idea could include the following steps:

  1. Split your classroom into groups. Consider the roles that students could play in a business. Be sure there are enough students in the group to fill jobs, but not so many that collaboration is difficult.
  2. Discuss community needs. Have each group brainstorm what they think is a good product or service to offer the surrounding community and choose one to move forward with.
  3. Assign jobs. Teach students common business roles. Each student in the group should assume a position. This is a chance for students to voice their personal strengths and interests.
  4. Write business plans. Ask your students to outline a business plan for their company, which could include prototypes for an invention, plans for where their business should be, and how they want to market the business.
  5. Develop pitches. Have your students develop a business presentation. Each member of the group should have a part in the pitch depending on their business role.
  6. Pitch ideas to business leaders. Find local business leaders to come in and listen to pitches, as well as provide feedback on the business plans. This gives students access to community members who can give advice and praise.

This project is an excellent way for students to combine their creativity with their critical thinking skills to solve a community need. It helps them think about others while also developing their own strengths in a group setting. Students will start to become comfortable with business vocabulary, public speaking, advocating for their viewpoint, and overcoming obstacles.

3. Film a Documentary

This project-based learning idea allows students to follow their interests and use technology. A project like this could span the entire academic year. The steps for this activity may include the following:

  1. Divide the classroom into teams. Keeping the groups small ensures that everyone is interested in the subject matter and gets to be hands-on. This could also be an individual project.
  2. Choose topics. Ask students to think about subjects in the school, community, or at home they’d like to document. Have them pitch their ideas in written form for approval, voicing why this idea is worthy of a documentary.
  3. Plan production. Introduce your students to things such as b-roll, storyboarding, and more. That way, they’re sure they’re properly prepared for producing their film.
  4. Film and interview. Students will need to set up interviews, shadow events, and research their topic thoroughly. Give them ample time to complete this portion of the activity.
  5. Edit raw footage. This is an excellent opportunity for students to use technology and creativity to create their final documentary.
  6. Create promotional materials. Ask students to write and design promotional materials for their documentary, including posters, a synopsis, and more.
  7. Screen the documentaries. Show the documentaries in class, giving all students the opportunity to learn about a topic that’s important to their classmates. Discuss the documentaries afterward.

This hands-on PBL activity gives students the chance to research and share a topic that is important to them. It pulls on creative, technical, and social skills, teaching students how to interview, research extensively, and put together a finished product that communicates a message.

Become Hands-On with PBL Activities

To influence project-based learning ideas and build your teaching skills for the classrooms of the future, consider an online master’s in curriculum and instruction from Shawnee State University Online. Our program allows you to earn your master’s degree in just 18 months and is designed to fit the schedule of working teachers. The curriculum teaches advanced topics that will prepare you to create meaningful learning experiences.