Summer has arrived. It feels like a breath of fresh air for teachers, parents, and students. The COVID-19 pandemic has flipped teaching and learning on its head – remote learning, endless virtual office hours, discovering methods and techniques to keep students engaged – it’s an entirely new arena for many. It can be frightening, exciting, innovative, and exhausting all at the same time. But now that summer vacation is upon us, the long-awaited break has arrived…and so has the opportunity to keep students’ brains active and stimulated.
Unfortunately, TV and video games aren’t the type of activities we are discussing here. We mean Project-Based Learning activities! Summertime PBL activities only require a short list of supplies and some imagination.
Growing an At-Home Garden
Gardens are not usually the first thing that we think of when coming up with summer activities. Students may find it boring or hard to do – especially if they live in a big and busy city. Yet, gardens open up entire exciting fields of study. How do we grow the food we eat? What can we eat versus cannot eat? What type of food grows where? All these amazing questions come up when a project-based gardening project is developed.
Challenge your kids to find the best way to grow plants. Tomatoes, green beans, and herbs (mint and parsley, specifically) are some of the best and easiest plants to grow. Set up the challenge using either an aquaponics, hydroponics or basic garden soil environment. Use at least two of these methods for comparing results! After building your garden with your child, plant the seeds or seedlings and keep close track of their progress. After the plants have grown, examine which method gave the best results. What plants seemed healthier and more robust? Which ones grew faster? Did any not grow? If using a harvest plant such as tomatoes, which growing method provided the most produce or herbs? By showing your child what it takes to produce food, they’ll grow a greater interest in agriculture and how it applies to them and the world around them.
Chemistry: It’s for Lunch
Chemistry. Some students love it, other students shudder at the mention of its name. Almost the Voldemort of subjects, it can be dreadful and difficult – if not taught properly. Chemistry is real-life and real-life is chemistry. It is constantly happening in the world around us and applies to everyday life. By using a few chemistry-based recipes, you can show your child this subject’s value and mitigate some of their fear and anxiety. Believe it or not, students will be surprised at the ease of these following chemistry concepts. We recommend the following:
The Computer Built At Home
Children now are practically tech and computer experts. So why not embrace it? Use this summer to challenge them to build their own mini-computer. Through this project, they can grow their appreciation and understanding of technology. We recommend Raspberry Pi, but there are other kits out there that work just as well. With Raspberry Pi, students go through each step to create a working miniature computer. Watch out, Bill Gates.
The first part of the project is getting the basics down – computer design and functionality. The second part is coding! Coding is how computers essentially “talk.” By getting your child to learn computer-speak, they are constructing a foundation for future success in a world dominated by technology-driven industries and ideas. Classes and any local programs are great methods for teaching beginner coding skills! Giving children access to technology skills early on is giving them the tools and training they need for growth and success in computer science or really any industry since most industries now incorporate some sort of computer science and technology.
Meal Planning & Money: Start Early!
Most folks think of meal planning is for bodybuilders, athletes, and fitness freaks…but it is actually an incredibly valuable skill to have. By teaching our children the value and power of money and budgeting early, they are being set up for success as they reach their teenage and young adult years. This summer take the opportunity to involve your children in weekly meal plans and showing how much food costs. The sooner they are able grasp budgeting and money, the more financially independent they can become! Allow kids to pick their favorite food and meals as increasing their engagement.
After selecting the foods, use a meal planner or budget template to organize for the week. Beside each item, help your child estimate an appropriate price. Calculate an overall price budget range for each meal or the week overall.
Take your child shopping with you and begin searching for the foods on your list. Your child might be surprised at just how pricey certain items are, especially if they believed it would be a lower price. Challenge them to find the best price to stay within the budget. After food shopping for the week, compare the receipt and budget. Did they stay within the right range? Where were they able to save any money? If shopping did go over the budget, see whether they understand what they could do differently next time. Make sure you allow your child to help with the budget a few more times so they can get a full understanding of it! Each time they are involved, they’ll improve their budgeting and shopping skills as well as gain a better understanding of how money works.
Summertime is a period to relax, have some fun and play games, but it also is an opportunity to keep children engaged, keep their minds active, and teach new skills. We encourage you to take some time to plan and build memorable PBL activities this summer – they’ll pay off in the future!
Things are different now. The shift to online or e-learning has been dramatic and sometimes overwhelming for teachers, students, and parents. However, the necessity for the familiarity of online learning has become ever so apparent. Despite not being together in a single classroom, Project-Based Learning can still exist and even thrive while improving the technology literacy of students.
But where to begin and with what tools? How, as teachers, are you supposed to conduct a PBL project let alone plan one?
Fortunately, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to dive into the online educational tools universe and pluck out available tools that correspond to each Essential Element of Project-Based Learning.
MyPBLWorks – A website dedicated to offering a wide-range of PBL resources. Create an account (for free) and begin the exploration of all things PBL. Great section of example challenging problems and questions.
Parlay Ideas – Parlay Ideas is a great source for entry events and prompts for students. A prompt or question is given and students can answer using the Parlay platform where peers can offer feedback and then ultimately lead to a live discussion. It offers a free trial for Certified Teachers for a full year.
Newsela – Newsela provides schools with up-to-date, accessible content that supports every learner in the classroom and at home. The website provides an expansive library of engaging, standards-aligned content to drive continued instruction stemming from the driving question or challenging problem.
Padlet – Padlet is a productivity software that can be used for school or business. Obviously in this case, you’d be using it for school purposes. With Padlet, students are able to create boards, documents, and webpages that they can contribute to. So when students have information to share among their group, Padlet is a great tool to use. It’s also free, which is really great.
Epic! – Instance access to thousands of books. Epic! is for students who are 12 years old and younger. In addition to books, there are learning videos and quizzes. It’s free for teachers and librarians too!
Nepris – Nepris is connecting industries to education. Their mission is “Making industry engagement part of the everyday classroom by empowering teachers to engage students in STEAM!” The connect students to industry professionals where students can ask questions, receive information, and have the authentic experience that PBL necessitates. Free trial is available for 30 days.
SketchUp – 3D modeling software meets drawing by hand. SketchUp is for those who want to present real visual ideas for their projects. Incredibly cool software and they offer a K-12 Education Grant for schools that qualify.
Seesaw – Seesaw is a student-driven digital portfolio. Essentially it is a platform for student engagement. Students can show their work in a variety of formats including PDFs, drawings, videos, and much more. This allows students to engage in their voice and choice for their PBL project – subject to teacher approval, of course. It’s free to sign up!
Canva – Canva is a great tool for presentations and graphics. Students can use Canva is a variety of ways to showcase what they want to present and how they would like to present it. Presentation? Sure. Infographic? Absolutely. They can even come up with their own Zoom backgrounds for their presentations. There are Pro and Enterprise solutions but for students, the free version is excellent.
Flipgrid – An excellent way for students to record their feedback on their own projects and their peers. Through short video recordings, Flipgrid offers a platform that makes the reflection aspect of
Kidsblog – Students can use Kidsblog to reflect on their PBL projects with a real audience. Through its safe student publishing standards such as teacher approval, students can publish and reflect on their work in a public manner showing what they have come up with. Free trial for 30 days.
PenPal Schools – PenPal School is a platform that connects students across 150 countries across the world. By connecting students to their peers around the world and discussing particular subjects, students get authentic constructive criticism and feedback. All topics are covered: from Earth Day to Fake News contests to World Religions.
Kaienza – Touted as the #1 feedback tool for Google Docs, Kaienza is fast and easy-to-use with neat features such as voice commenting, explainer videos, and automatic rubrics. Installation is free and we must say, the video commenting is a very cool feature.
SoundTrap – From songs to podcasts, SoundTrap is excellent platform for students that are looking to make a public product in the realm of debates, PSA’s, or informative storytelling. Currently, they are offering an extended trial for students and teachers.
BookCreator – Book Creator is a simple tool for students and teachers alike creating digital books. As students finalize a public product, what better way than their personally created book, short story, or in-depth report. Even more so, students can let their creativity flow into poetry books, journals, and comic adventures. Pricing features are listed on the site but for groups creating their own products, it definitely looks worth it.
Coming up with fresh ideas for projects isn’t easy. Sure, you can go back and reuse the ones from years prior but like any good bread, they eventually get stale. When using Project-Based Learning, it is incredibly important to get students excited about projects.
While adhering to curriculum and standards, these project ideas can be fitted or adapted to your classroom:
Here’s an idea that could generate measurable savings for your school while giving students the chance to apply their understanding of energy, math, chemistry, and psychology. Depending on the content focus and grade level, students could investigate everything from energy audits to alternative energy sources and human behavior change. As an extension, students might contribute their results to the Cool School Challenge.
This idea gives students the opportunity to trace the production of multiple products – from clothing to food to computer tablets to vehicles. They can decide to focus on a product they personally buy or that their family purchases. They can then come up with a framework of acceptability as far as workers’ wages, environmental impact, resources needed, and more and come up with a report based on the product and if it meets the criteria to be acceptable. The report could be published on the school’s website or on other community mediums.
This project challenges students in grades 5-8 to enhance the health of preschool kids and toddlers by coming up with creative ways to encourage more outdoor play. With input from preschool teachers, students can grasp the perspective of the teachers and their students. For final products, students might produce an online guide to local parks or lead play days in which they would demonstrate games or activities to get preschool kids and their caretakers outdoors.
Students are seeing a number of homeless people in their town or city and there are only one or two shelters that help feed them and provide them a place to rest. However, how can they get the skills necessary to gain a job to provide sustainable income and get them off of the street? Students can interview homeless shelter employees, government officials, tertiary education professionals, and develop a plan that can be presented or submitted to local government or nonprofits that will help homeless individuals become employable.
This project invites students to be innovators and designers. Where do they see opportunities for local improvements? How can they use engineering principles to design and model improved purposes for empty lots or blighted spaces? Student investigations are likely to include surveys, interviews, prototyping, collaboration, and more as they take on this real-world challenge and share their results with local decision-makers and officials. The same project could incorporate social studies or economics by having students consider the stories behind specific places. What used to occupy now-vacant spaces? What changed? What was lost in the construction?
In this project, students take on the role of a local business owner or entrepreneur and assist in developing a marketing plan that will help attract more tourists to their stalls and shops. Students use math, geography, psychology, and critical thinking to analyze patterns, and produce a plan that can be presented to local business owners. For research, students can use surveys, collaboration, real-data, and more as they gather information to come up with their proposed marketing plan.
This is a high school science project with a strong local focus. If your town or community is facing an invasive species issue; such as Carp, European Rabbits, Feral Pigs or even plants like kudzu vine or yellow starhistle, this is an excellent idea that will get your students involved in the local community and partner with local organizations. Students will research the issue and propose solutions to an expert panel. They will be expected to defend their solutions based on facts, data, and ethical decision-making, and appeal to stakeholders on all sides of this contentious issue.
A project that encourages students to look at community issues and critically think about what challenges can be solved with available resources or what needs to be funded. Students can collaborate over specific topics and propose ideas and budgets for the funds allocated. The public product can be a mock debate or a quorum to have other students vote on a specific public policy.
Here’s an idea suitable for any school that is overdue for a makeover. The idea has built-in constraints to force creativity: proposals must make the building more efficient and student-friendly. Students will apply their understanding of math and art to generate scale drawings, which they’ll pitch to school administrators along with proposed budgets and a justification for the change. Students can also develop prototypes in a makerspace or using an online tool like SketchUp to generate plans.
Pending upon what age range, elementary through high school, your class can identify a preventable disease or addiction and plan a campaign to inform the community about the causes, effects, and treatments available. Wide-ranging ideas from preventing diabetes to treating opioid addictions have been used to create informational and participative campaigns. A question that must be asked prior is, are my students significantly interested in a disease or addiction that is relevant to their lives? If it is meaningful and pertinent to their own lives, they will be far more engaged in the project.
Interested in learning more about Project-Based Learning or becoming PBL-Certified? Contact Educators of America today for a free consultation on PBL Certification.