Finding inspiration for project-based learning projects

When implementing project-based learning (PBL) it is important to think creatively about designing PBL. For some teachers, who may be more used to working from inflexible, externally written units of work or programs, this might be challenging to begin with. Finding inspiration will help to ensure that the PBL is engaging for students and teachers and provides a rich and authentic context for the PBL.

Where can I find inspiration?

There are an infinite number of ways in which to find inspiration. As a starting point:

  • Identify school events to develop PBL projects where students can see the impact their learning can have on the community. These might include organising a community sports day, developing a program or resource for a specific group of students in the school, or organising a conference or school celebration linked to events in the school calendar such as NAIDOC, Tree Day, Clean Up Australia Day etc.
  • Consider when you find yourself asking 'How is that possible?' or 'How does that work?'. The chances are you have found inspiration for PBL. Opportunities for these inquiry questions happen regularly in our own daily experiences but we don't always identify the potential for those experiences to drive learning in our classroom. Develop the habit of finding inspiration in visits to museums and galleries, celebrations, concerts, public events, places and spaces, television shows newspaper articles and more. Instead of assessing ideas or products for feasibility, assess for potential.
  • Use syllabus documents and curriculum maps to identify a particular focus area that you need to explore in a particular term or period of time. Rather than focusing on specific content descriptors, look for the 'big idea(s)' and conceptual understandings behind it. For example, concepts such as 'sustainability', 'community' and 'service' provide a larger framework for the PBL that helps to then draw in a wide range of content from across different curriculum areas.
  • Ask students – as students become more familiar with the framework and potential of PBL they may start to suggest ideas for future PBL. It is important that they understand the importance of connecting this to syllabus content and they will need clear and explicit support to be able to do this. This may be something that only happens as you also become more confident in the approach and in the change in role which allows student greater agency in the learning process.
  • Investigate other sources such as other teachers or schools – there are a huge number of PBL examples available online and through your own network of colleagues and schools. Some links to websites with a range of examples can be found below. When finding project samples to emulate or use as inspiration, it is critical to evaluate online examples carefully and ensure they are samples of PBL and not 'projects'.

What do I do once I've found inspiration?

Once you have found your inspiration, there are some important things to consider before you start designing your PBL unit. Consider the following probing questions to extend your thinking and planning:

  • How does this link to the curriculum content?
  • How can I make this relevant and appropriate to my context?
  • Think about the age and stage of development of your students. Also, think about their prior learning and what resources or experts are available.
  • Is this something that students can connect with and will find engaging and motivating?

Further reading and resources

Models of Excellence EL Education

PBL is High Tech High Teacher Jeff Robin's video animations about 'what PBL is'.

Project Oriented Learning High Tech High Teacher Jeff Robin's video animations about 'what PBL isn't'.

Student projects — High Tech High

Project Search – The Buck Institute for Education

UnBoxed Project Cards – High Tech High

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