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5 cool project ideas to steal

By Diana Fingal
September 20, 2019
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When it comes to project-based learning, not all potential projects are created equal.

Strong projects share specific traits that up the learning ante, ensure student engagement and may even extend the learning outside the classroom.  

When selecting PBL projects, look for activities that aren't overly scripted and that allow you and your students to maneuver as needed once the project is underway. Review project guidelines to ensure they allow for both up-front thinking and room to respond to questions. Seek out projects that include opportunities to adapt in the moment. And, since time is your biggest resource, be sure to select a project that you feel is the very best use of students' time.

"In general, if projects look cookie cutter and you're asked to follow a series of steps that don't seem to add up to something of value and don't allow for student voice and choice, or the artifacts are thin and prescribed, these are indicators of bad projects," said Suzie Boss, co-author of Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Real-World Projects in the Digital Age with Jane Krauss.

"Look for real-world connections and projects that can draw in subject-matter experts," Krauss added. "The nature of the investigation shouldn't be too schooly."

ISTE asked social media followers to share their favorite PBL projects. Here are some of their best, in no particular order:  

1. Integrating student-created media into history class

This historical geography project has high school students create video tourism commercials for 17th century North American colonies based on research into their leadership, religion, economy, climate and culture. Students use persuasive writing techniques they learned in language arts to develop their scripts and then create their commercials in iMovie. They upload their final videos to the teacher's YouTube channel and watch them all at a viewing party.

2. Learning business basics through video game design

Fifth grade students learn the basics of economics and business by creating and operating their own video game companies. Teams of four students choose a vice president, chief financial officer, marketing director and game designer. Each team is charged with operating a company and creating a working game using Pixel Press Floors. Once complete, all students visit an "arcade" where they can test the games. Students also track earnings, expenditures and profit margins and reflect on their business models and leadership approaches.

3. Learning economics by creating products that solve problems

A business teacher in India, Bijal Damani, created this competition for business students called the Innovative Product and Marketing Competition (IPM). Students create their own teams and, after a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), they learn the first real-life lesson – you need people who complement and supplement your own skills to make a great team, and that may not include your best friends. In this competition, students have to look around their communities, spot a problem and come up with an innovative product to solve that problem. They also have to create an entire marketing plan, including newspaper, magazine and TV ads, radio jingles, websites and social media plans.

4. Saving Chesapeake Bay oysters 

Students in Virginia Beach learned about the plight of oysters in nearby Chesapeake Bay from conservationists and then learned how to make oyster castles to improve habitat. The student analysed data, designed prototypes, wrote up their findings and presented the information to a real audience. 

5. Students simulate presidential election using plush toys and digital tools

A group of students set up a mock election between three stuff animals. They organized a debate, created a website, made commercials and print adds, conducted polls and finally set up a secure voting system and tabulated results. 

Need PBL ideas? Discover real-world projects for real-world classrooms. Read ISTE's book Reinventing Project-Based Learning.

Diana Fingal is ISTE's director of editorial content.

This is an updated version of a post that originally published on March 16, 2015.