How much do you remember from your K-12 school years? Admittedly, most of it is fuzzy to me. I’m sure I learned a lot, but if you asked me to go into specifics, I’d have a hard time coming up with anything. Except for one memory, that is. It was a lesson which took place in science class during my sophomore year of high school.

My teacher facilitated a project where students had to determine what caused the mass die-off of fish in a fictional small town. Our class tested water samples, collaborated on investigations, and calculated formulas to determine the cause. Then, we were each given a local role (farmer, shopkeeper, mayor, etc.) and had to craft a compelling argument where we named the culprit and determined what to do about it. I was given the role of a lawyer and actually came up with an idea for recouping the town’s lost revenue. As a somewhat withdrawn student, I didn’t expect to enjoy the project, but I ended up having a blast and was even voted “Best Presentation” by the class. The memory of this lesson still brings a smile to my face and stands as a reminder of what can be accomplished through project-based learning.

It should come as no surprise to readers of this blog that Van Andel Institute for Education is a big believer in project-based learning. By facilitating these learning experiences, teachers can foster curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking while encouraging students to take ownership of their own learning. However, not every teacher has the time or resources to implement a full project. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t introduce elements of PBL into our daily routines. Here are just a few strategies for including aspects of project-based learning in your classroom:

  • Homework They Love: Allow students to replace some homework assignments with equally challenging work on topics they love. If your student is a proficient mathematician and doesn’t need extra math practice, don’t make them do it. Instead, use the opportunity to encourage them to design a project on something that interests them. For instance, have them write an opinion piece on a current event they care about, or about which car is the coolest!
  • Share Your Awesome: Students care more about their work when they know it will have an impact outside their classroom. Identify how your students will showcase their work. Ideas include public service announcements, podcasts, presentations, music videos, commercials, fundraisers, share fairs, or even a published book!
  • Start with Why: Motivate students with a compelling question and engaging hook as you launch into your lesson. Compelling questions should be provocative, motivating, and empowering. Examples: How can we stop germs in their tracks? Will our state survive the next 100 years? Can 4th graders inspire change in public policy?
  • Reflection Journals: Journaling is demonstrated to help students retain learning, and to help them manage and process their own experiences in the classroom. Incorporate it for academic reasons, or to cultivate social-emotional learning.

If you found these ideas helpful, be sure to check out Blue Apple’s Strategy Explorations for more free classroom content. If you’re an educator who would like to implement a Blue Apple project check out these ready-to-go PBL units. The road ahead may be long but the opportunities this new school year provides cannot be understated. So, make time for PBL in your classroom. Get your students excited with lessons that spark their curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking. With the right inspiration, there’s no telling what our students can accomplish!

For more free educational resources, check out out these teacher-tested strategies from Blue Apple!