Project Based Learning Ideas for Remote Instruction

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Photo by Edgar Castrejon on Unsplash

I think by now all of the schools in America, and perhaps the world, are closed to the public, and many are operating online.  So what does this mean for the educator interested in project based learning, or the educator who relies heavily on PBL?

In this post I want to offer some quick ideas for project based learning tasks you can do remotely. 

1. Research Project:

It may seem obvious, but the first thing that comes to mind is a good old research project.  This is the prime time to assign something like this.  All the students need is a topic to study, and a computer with internet access.  How this looks can depend on your subject.  

  • If you teach something like English, you can have students research an author. Since the goal of PBL is always inquiry and application, you could then have students analyze the literary tools used in a selected passage and write their own excerpt using the same tools (for example).  
  • If you teach history, you could have students research past pandemics and maybe compare it to what we’re experiencing now. 
  • If you teach science, you could have students study viruses. What they are, how they operate, and then critique the popular advice on protecting against it…for instance, will a mask protect you from getting the virus? Why? Why not? What might be better?
  • If you teach statistics, you could use Facebook or another social media platform to do a poll and collect data. For instance, a poll asking how much toilet paper you’ve stored.  None, one extra roll, enough for a few weeks, etc.  Then find the percentage of people who actually have an overabundance.  Does this percentage make sense with the societal panic about toilet paper? 

Research projects are a great way to encourage inquiry on an individual basis! Students are engaging in real world applications of your subject, they are asking and answering probing questions, and they are producing a product using what they are learning!  If you want students to share out, you could set up a Facebook group and have students go live or post a video to share what they’ve learned and their solution!  Also, with google docs, students can collaborate on projects remotely by adding to and modifying shared documents.

2. Re-enactments:

In this case, I don’t mean skits, but if its applicable to your subject area, that could be cool too! They would have to be monologue style tho unless students got together on a video conferencing site like zoom and recorded it..hmmm…interesting thought…

For the sake of this post though, re-enactments means having students recreate something. For instance, with this I am mostly thinking of science teachers.  If you do a simple experiment and post it to whatever platform you’re using to deliver your class materials, you can then ask your students to video themselves re-creating the experiment.  Keep in mind this would have to be something that uses common household items, and you would probably not want to put too much of a grade weight on it, since some students won’t have access to the materials to recreate the experiment. 

Other forms of re-enactment could be:

  • For math, demonstrate finding percentage using your returnables.  What percent was soda bottles? What percent was water bottles? Ask students what percentages they got! Use the same format for other topics
  • For social studies or current events, post an editorial cartoon and ask students to create their own.
  • For English teachers, make a post that you want students to copy the style or format.
  • For art, share a piece of art you’ve done or found using a particular skill or topic and ask students to create their own.  Ask students to create a picture depicting what “quarantine life” is like for them. 
  • Etc.

3. Demonstrations

This would be one step down from re-enactments.  You as the educator would show, or find a video showing, the demonstration you want them to see, then ask students probing questions about it. “What did you notice?” “Why did that happen?” “What do you think might happen if we did _____” Again, this is probably most applicable to science or math, but you’re an expert in your own subject, so I’m sure you know if this will work for you!

4. Practice:

Practice is obviously necessary to perfect a skill, and it can be easy just to assign repetitive tasks, but that wouldn’t be project based learning, not really.  In order to really tap into the PBL side of practice, you’re going to want students to practice their knowledge by applying it to something applicable.  So, practice fractions by baking cookies, practice adding and subtracting decimals by going grocery shopping, practice oxidation by using lemon juice and sunlight to treat a stain, or lighten their hair. Having students practice what they’ve been learning, in applicable tasks they are doing anyway (or applicable tasks that they COULD be doing) is a good way to encourage project based learning at home!

Alternatively, rather than have them practice a skill they’ve been learning, you can have them chronicle a problem they’ve had to solve, and simply encourage the skill set of problem solving.  For instance, they have clothes to wash but they are out of laundry soap and the store is out of laundry soap (because panic buying!)…what did they do? How did they solve that problem? Were they able to solve that problem?  Why or why not? Etc. 

5. Goodie Bag:

The “goodie bag” is the list of online field trips, web cams, interactive games, etc. You give a list of resources they can use to practice and enrich their learning on the topic you want them to learn. This is more of a “go at your own pace” kind of approach and without any accompanying questions is more of an experience.  BUT, you can absolutely give accompanying questions and even if you don’t do that, we certainly learn from experiences.  Perhaps you can have students write a short paragraph about what they learned whenever they do one of the activities in the goodie bag. 

6. Noticing:

Lastly, and this is more for people who have been encouraged not to assign work, you can simply ask students to look for the things they have been learning.  Make a point of noticing when something they have been learning happens or shows up.  Kids love it when they see something they’ve been learning in school happen around them in life!  Encourage them to pay attention, and document when they notice this happening! Either have them e-mail you whenever it happens, or just keep a list to share with you at a later time!

So much of what project based learning is, happens on a regular basis in our daily lives, and even more so now that we all have new challenges to figure out.  Whatever you decide to do, encourage inquiry, encourage problem solving, encourage applying knowledge to problems and testing it out.  If you do this, you’ll be encouraging problem based learning!

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