*Editor’s Note: The following blog was originally published on PBL Works. Learn how you can get started with Project Based Learning by visiting PBL Works today!

As a former elementary teacher and a creator of Blue Apple Projects, navigating our distance-learning world has given me a better perspective on what our students really need: authentic and purposeful learning experiences that empower and inspire students to make a difference. 

This has always been our mission at Blue Apple. After attending PBL101 through PBL Works in August 2019, it was clear that our vision at Blue Apple was aligned closely with the vision of PBL Works—that project-based learning can and should empower students by providing them with opportunities to have an authentic real-world impact. This is purposeful learning.

Giving Students What They Need

Students need to feel like their contributions matter. In project design, this is something that we at Blue Apple have been very intentional about from the very beginning. So, we created ten projects that do just that. One of these projects, Prevent the Spread, has students creating public service announcements on ways to make their school—and their world, a safer and healthier place. They learn about germs and how they spread, collect germs from common surfaces, test the effectiveness of a variety of disinfectants, and create a PSA that they share with an authentic audience.

By putting students in the driver’s seat, they navigate through the work with excitement and purpose. They recognize that their contributions really can make a difference. You can see this project in action with 4th and 5th graders here.

New Learning for a Changing World

Now, fast forward to the world we are navigating through today. Most students are no longer in school. Instead, they are trying to maneuver this new norm that they were thrust into. Most teachers are working from home, pulling together lessons and learning experiences for the virtual platform that has become their new classroom. Implementing PBL presents its own set of challenges and obstacles in a regular school setting.

So, during these unprecedented times, how do we create learning experiences that are authentic and purposeful in the virtual world? Our approach at Blue Apple is the Prevent the Spread: Distance-Learning Edition. During this pandemic, this PBL experience holds great relevance and purpose. Preventing the spread of germs can literally save lives. And now more than ever, we want our students to feel empowered to help our communities and our world overcome these most difficult times.

How Does This Project Play Out?

In the Prevent the Spread: Distance-Learning Edition, students first learn timely, well-sourced information about what coronavirus is and how it spreads. They explore how we know the crisis is real and significant, as well as what steps they can take to help. Next, they discover how to use the science of persuasion to help people around the world to change behaviors and save lives. The project provides students with supports and scaffolds to help them create a powerful Public Service Announcement, then guides them to think iteratively as they seek feedback from peers to refine their work. Finally, the project helps classes explore ways to share their learning and monitor the impact of their PSAs.

Forward Together

These are trying times. But, trying times also create opportunities for even our youngest citizens to step up and do great things. Let’s continue to help each other. Let’s continue to do our part. We will continue to inspire students through our work, because even though we may not be in the educational space we are accustomed to, the learning must continue. The curiosity is ever-present. This gives all of us an opportunity to motivate our students. So, choose to make a difference during a time when inspiration and action are needed most.

We hope you are all staying healthy and safe! For more remote learning resources, check out these offerings at Blueappleteacher.org!