When I was teaching I would get a handful of students every year that had a deep passion for cooking. One particular student was interested in cooking, science, and travel. Together we designed a project-based learning experience that combined those three interests.
This student coordinated a fundraiser to raise money for a school trip that blended her loves of science and cooking. She learned about chemistry concepts by experimenting in the kitchen. She then created a cookbook using FlipSnack with original recipes that demonstrated chemical reactions, and sold the cookbook to friends, families, and neighbors in the community. This project inspired me to do kitchen inquiry with my own children last year, which I posted about in this blog. Check that out for fun kitchen science activities!
This student could have learned about chemical reactions, thrown some definitions and formulas onto a poster board, presented it to her class, and called it a day. Instead she applied the content to real-life and created a product that could be shared digitally.
With the onset of Covid related school closures, the means to create innovative final products is more important than ever. A while ago I published a post here with over 100 innovative end product ideas for project-based learners. Below is a list of ways to create and share each of those final product options digitally.
If you are new to project-based learning, or you are experienced but are looking for time-saving strategies, check out my project-based learning planner. Use the templates to develop unlimited PBL experiences. You can also check out my guided PBL resources, which all focus on a theme and include end product ideas, all of which have a digital option.
Project-Based Learning Digital End Product Ideas
Online Images (Ex: Canva, Photoshop):
I use Google Maps for a lot of things including student-designed tours, storytelling, and more. Check out this post with end product ideas using Google Maps. If you're looking to save time or are looking for PBL guidance, check out this high school PBL resource that uses Google Maps as an end product tool.
Interactive Presentations (Ex: Google Slides, Wick Editor):
Movie Makers (Ex: iMovie, Movie Maker, WeVideo, etc.):
Other digital movie making tools to check out: Screencast-O-Matic, PlayPosit, Green Screen by Do Ink, Animaker Class, Edpuzzle, Binumi, Adobe Spark, Touch Cast Studio
Online Books (Ex: FlipSnack, Book Creator):
All of these could be completed using a simple word processor such as Microsoft Word or Google Docs, but tools such as FlipSnack offer options to insert images and video clips.
Audio End Products (Podcasting hosts, FlipGrid, Clyp):
Other digital audio tools to check out: Anchor, Beautiful Audio Editor, StoryCorps App, Toontastic 3D storytelling app, Explain Everything, Audacity, SpeakPipe.
Blogs/Websites (Ex: Weebly, Blogger, WordPress):
I would love to know what you are doing with your students in the virtual world! Although I have a lot of experience with in-person project-based learning, I am learning about how to make PBL meaningful and impactful digitally right along with you. Tell us about the digital tools for demonstrating learning that you love the most! I would love to make this a continuous and growing catalog of digital end product possibilities.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest & Instagram, for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
There are some aspects of project-based learning that can be daunting or intimidating. Connecting and collaborating with community members was one of those things for me at the beginning of my PBL journey. But putting that fear aside is a must for several reasons:
Those of you that have dabbled in project-based learning know that bringing an expert to your students is common practice, as is bringing your students to the expert (Ex: A research lab). Community experts come into a place of learning for many reasions such as to speak, work with students directly on their projects, offer feedback and assistance, and occasionally play a role in final evaluations.
That has changed a bit with Covid. Distance learning presents an obvious challenge to connecting experts with students face-to-face, as does classroom learning. Even those students that will be back in a classroom will be experiencing a different learning environment than before, with understandable precautions put in place.
So how do you continue to incorporate community expertise into project-based learning mid-pandemic? Technology! Thankfully we are living in a digital era where communication is not a problem. My students engaged with community experts digitally even before Covid because there are so many cool ways to do that these days.
Before moving on, click "Get in Touch" right here on this website to sign up for my email list. You will receive my free project-based learning assessment e-portfolio where students can showcase their project outcomes, including community experts/collaborations. Grab my PBL Tool Kit to help with designing projects that include community experts.
Connecting with Community Experts Virtually for Project-Based Learning Experiences
How to Utilize Community Experts for PBL During Covid:
Students should use experts to gather information about their project topics. I am a biology teacher, but I am not an expert on colony collapse disorder, for example, a topic that came up during out pollinator study. The U of M had a CCD research program at the time. I was able to bring my students to their lab to discuss their research on disappearing bees. But how could students have gathered information from this expert team without being face-to-face?
I have been able to get my hands on so many unqiue resources by connecting with the right people. My favorite of all time was a human brain. A neurology student conducting research and writing her disseration on addiction came in to speak to my students and brought with her a real human brain. She then donated sheep brains for us to dissect. Connect with these community members however you see fit! She could have shown us the human brain on a video call and sent us the sheep brains to dissect together.
Collaborate with experts! Organize experiences that are mutually beneficial to your students and your community expert. There are so many amazing online programs that offer sharing and collaborating capabilities. For example, lets say students are coordinating a fundraiser. Students collaborate with local chefs to create a cookbook filled with recipes using only local ingredients. They then sell the cookbook.
FlipSnack is an online magazine/book creator that can be shared. Canva is another example, as are Google Apps. This entire cookbook could be created by a variety of collaborators without anyone ever seeing each other face-to-face. Of course that is not ideal, but that is the situation we're in, and it's a good option considering.
Start Building Your Network:
Keep an eye out for awesome community experts, especially if you will be the one coordinating these collaborations. My students self-direct their PBL experiences, so my students often find their own experts, but it's nice for you to have a log of potential connections to offer your students. Start with these steps:
1) Brain Dump: Grab a piece a paper, pull up a Google Doc or planning program, and dump all of your ideas for connections and collaborations into it.
2) Reach Out: Connect with a few people a day. Connect with someone of interest on LinkedIn, email a few people here and there, put a post on a Facebook group or Instastory.
3) Log Connections/Develop a Network: Jot down those that you make connections with or work with. Once you have worked with them, stay connected and keep them posted so that there is potential for future collaborations.
What are some of your favorite ways to bring community collaborators into your curriculum? How about digitally? I am gradually learning about amazing educational technologies, but have a lot more to learn. Fill me in!
For more details, tips, tricks, and resources on community experts, head back to to some earlier blog posts. Try this post on using the community as a resource and keep checking back for more posts in my PBL digital series.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
If you've been following Experiential Learning Depot for a while, you know that my experience and passion lies in self-directed project-based learning, particularly when it comes to science topics (I'm a life science teacher). True student-directed learning encourages and offers ample opportunity for student choice. That includes students determining their own project topics and driving questions.
When students have the flexibility to choose project topics and driving questions for ALL of their projects over the course of a session (see self-directed learning series for details), they can get overwhelmed with possibilites. This is especially true if you are not beside them in a face-to-face learning environment.
If you're distance learning this fall, create a system for developing and organizing project topics. That system can include a digital brainstorming activity (FREE at ELD on TPT) that can be shared via Google Classroom. Another piece of this system is having students log or list project topics of interest that they can return to over the course of the session when in need of project inspiration. Once students have project ideas, they can list them out and design their projects using my digital personalized project-based learning bundle (personal learning plan and PBL tool kit). As they complete projects, they can showcase their work in my PBL assessment e-Portfolio, FREE when you subscribe to my mailing list.
True self-directed project-based learning is much easier done in flexible learning environments such as those that have support from the district, those teaching an entire course on PBL or passion projects, advisories, home schools/coops. If this is not you, PBL can still be self-directed, there just wouldn't be a need for topic brainstorming because you would be assigning a general topic for students to cover. However, students can still choose a subtopic around a broader theme, determine how they will demonstrate learning, how they will share their final product with an authentic audience, etc. Check out my guided, themed PBL resources.
If you are in a position to offer true self-directed project-based learning, check out how you can help learners brainstorm project-topics virtually!
Project-Based Learning Topic Brainstorming Activities for Distance Learning
Because self-directed project-based learning is personalized, you need to start by building a relationship with every individual student. Get to know them. That can be a little more difficult when learning is taking place virtually. Before moving onto the following virtual brainstorming activities, grab my personal learning plan. This is a great way to begin to get to know your students.
1. Look at Interests
Self-directed project-based learning is personalized, and part of that is identifying learners' interests. What do they enjoy? What are their strengths? What are their hobbies? The result of students developing projects around their interests is an intrinsic motivation to learn and a passion for learning.
How do that? Start with an interest survey, especially if you are just beginning to know your students. Check out my free interest survey that can be shared digitally via Google Classroom.
2. One-On-One Conversation
When working face-to-face with students, casual chat between us is the most effective way to determine a project topic. I go over their interest surveys with them, and/or their personal learning plan, ask them questions about their answers to those activities, and more. This almost always leads to a project topic that they can get excited about simply by allowing them to talk about themselves. But what about virtually?
I highly recommend making time to meet with students via Google Meet, Zoom, or some other video conference tool, to have this conversation. You can also provide feedback directly to their Google Slides personal learning plan and/or interest survey, as they are both shareable with Google Classroom.
3. Project "Circle"/Group Share
When we were in a classroom, my group had regular project circles, which is basically an opportunity for peer input. We would gather in a literal circle, go around and talk about projects that they are currently working on, what they may want to do next, lack of motivation and/or inspiration to start a new project, etc. The purpose of this is to get other students to add their input. It's a great big think tank rather than each student's only source of feedback coming from me. Virtually, though?
Zoom! I know Zoom is getting old. But if you're distance learning, make time for it. I suggest a project circle at least once per week, ideally more. You could also start a class forum or discussion on Google Classroom where they can offer their ideas in text format. One student might need credit in economics and is having a hard time settling on a project topic around those standards. Other students can chime in with their experiences or ideas.
Just because projects are student-led and they get to choose their topics, it is a reality that most students are required to meet specific standards/benchmarks or complete specific courses to graduate. This was the case at my school. So our students, in part, chose topics and designed their projects around standards that they need to meet. If a student needs to hit a benchmark in ecology, specifically as it relates to food webs, and they enjoy surfing, they may consider designing a project around the important role that sharks play as tertiary consumers.
Have students pull up a new Google Doc. They can add a table with two columns, one with standards that they need to meet, and the other with project topics that would help them meet those standards. The personal learning plan available in my store includes this type of organizing tool, which is also editable to fit specific needs.
This is my favorite way to inspire project topics. A "spark" is a word coined by my boss that is essentially a learning activity that gets students excited about a topic or question. Part of my job as an experiential educator at an experiential school was to plan and organize these sparks. Examples include field trips such as a visit to a museum, local park, a nearby factory, a farm, etc. The purpose is to get students asking questions that can become driving questions for a project-based learning experience. But there are many other ways to spark project topics than going on field trips, thankfully, since we are currently not in a position to be going on any.
So how can you provide sparks virtually or remotely?
There are many other options for sparks, you just have to keep your eyes and your ears open! My free project topic brainstorming activity mentioned above is all basically sparks compiled onto one document.
Let's summarize. What can you do to start self-directed project-based distance/remote learning today?
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
Distance learning is a challenge in itself, as is differentiated learning, even in a classroom setting when you are face-to-face with students on a daily basis. But differentiating learning from a distance significantly adds to the challenge. How do you engage high school learners in content and skill building while also considering and applying each student's unique qualities and circumstances?
Project-based learning is an awesome tool for differentiated learning, especially when projects are self-directed. My students self-direct every PBL project while I facilitate, meaning they have choice in driving question, project topic, how they will demonstrate learning, who they will share their new skills and knowledge with, etc. Students all gain the same skills and learn whatever content you assign them, but they learn it in a way that works for them. Projects are designed and catered to each unique student to ensure success for all. Click here for posts on self-directed learning for more details.
So how do you apply individuality to project design when you can't be face-to-face? It will take several posts to answer this question to its entirety, so I'm going to start with talking about creating digital personal learning plans. A personal learning plan is a document developed by each student in collaboration with their instructor. A personal learning plan includes a variety of features such as interests, learning challenges, learning styles, goals, etc. That info is then used to develop a learning plan specific to each student. Part of that learning plan includes a list of self-directed PBL projects and desired outcomes.
I have a digital personal learning plan in my store. It is a Google Slides and it is editable for YOU to include whatever features you find important for understanding your students. You will use this digital PLP to help students develop self-directed PBL projects that suit their needs, interests, etc. You do not need my resource to do personal learning plans with your students. This resource simply saves you time in having to create a template yourself. The following is a list of what my digital PLP includes. Have students develop a personal learning plan right away when they head "back to school" this fall. Get to know your students right away to ensure successful project-based distance learning for the rest of the year.
Differentiate Distance Learning with Digital Personal Learning Plans
My Digital Personal Learning Plan Includes:
Using a PLP to Design Self-Directed PBL Projects:
This is one way to differentiate learning with high schoolers, but one very powerful way. I stick with self-directed project-based learning for a reason.
If you have not already, subscribe to my email list to get your free project-based learning assessment portfolio (also Google Slides). You should have seen a subscribe pop up upon entering this site. Combine that with my self-directed project-based learning tool kit, and you and your students will be set for the year. Check back next week for virtual project topic brainstorming activities.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
Project-Based Distance Learning for High School Students
We are currently neck deep in a pandemic and I am not seeing light at the end of the tunnel. Schools have been closed down, and many are about to start the '20-'21 school year entirely distance learning. My district is one of those.
How do I motivate students to work effectively, productively, and independently from home? With student directed project-based learning. Students are intrinsically motivated to learn when they find purpose in the process and the outcome, when they are given choices, and when the experience is interest-driven.
Implementing project-based learning from a distance will be different than facilitating the experience in-person, no question. Authentic presentations will likely be digital, final products will be created using standard household/office materials or computer programs, community experts will share their expertise virtually, and teacher/student communication and feedback will be done entirely online.
But if you are heading into a situation of 100% distance learning with your students, project-based learning is an ideal instructional approach to the alternatives. Give students the tools now to successfully work through content in a fun, exciting, interesting, interest-led and independent way while they are distance learning, and when they return to a face-to-face learning environment they will know exactly what to do.
What Students Need for Project-Based Distance Learning:
For access to my free experiential learning resource library, subscribe to ELD's mailing list, open your welcome email, locate the password, and click here to enter your password and gain access to the growing library.
Distance PBL Implementation:
Each of the talking points above has been elaborated on in my distance project-based learning blog series. Head back a few posts to get details or click on the links provided here.
Good luck to everyone, and stay safe out there!
This post is part of a series on student-directed learning. If you are unsure of what student-directed learning is or what a student-directed learning environment looks like, go back and peruse previous posts. In short, student-directed learning gives students choice throughout the learning experience, and the learning environment should accommodate those choices.
Imagine you walk into a classroom. You look around and see students spread out around the room. Some students are quietly lounging in bean bag chairs, reading or writing. In the center of the room you see a small group of students chatting around a large table. You find students sitting at desks, working away on computers. One of the students is creating an animation and another student is writing an email. You scan the room and see a couple of students watching a live webinar streaming from Facebook.
This is my classroom. This is what my student-directed learning environment looks like for much of the day (not all of it). Our students lead their education through student-directed project-based learning. For details on student-directed PBL, go back to this post. Each student in the example above is working on some component of a student-directed project. One student decides he wants to gather information for his project by reading books on the topic. The small group of students chatting around the table is brainstorming how best to reach their authentic audience. Another student is creating an animation as her final product to demonstrate learning. The student writing emails is connecting with community experts to utilize for his project. The small group of students watching the live webinar is using this modern technology to learn about their project topic.
Each student is learning in their own way, at their own pace. They may be driven by the same general learning objective that you set for them, such as a standard that needs to be met (or not), but they meet those learning objectives by making a series of personal decisions based on their passions and needs.
The question then is where is the teacher in all of this? If the teacher isn't giving information through direct instruction or providing a structured lesson plan or activity, then what is the teacher even doing there? Teachers wear A LOT of hats. ALL educators know this and experience this, regardless of pedagogy or philosophy. Student-directed teachers still manage the classroom, provide resources, scaffold, organize learning activities, provide input, and even teach students how to direct their own learning. What changes in a student-directed learning environment is your role. You are far from obsolete. You are a facilitator of learning. You guide and support, you challenge, you give feedback.
What does the teacher do in student-directed learning environment?
1. Help students learn how to direct their own learning -
A lot of students have spent the bulk of their education being given information through direct instruction. Teachers that want to transition to a more student-directed learning environment are going to have to undo the mindset that student's have developed over the years that they're going to be given the "correct answers." Student-directed learning requires critical thinking, problem-solving, and failing at times! Students may be uncomfortable with that at first. I have many resources in my Experiential Learning Depot store that guide teachers and students through this transition by way of project-based learning, one of which is a PBL bundle and manual.
2. Get to know your students -
In order to serve your students effectively in a student-directed learning environment, you'll need to get to know who they are, what they're interested in, their learning styles, their passions and more. It is very personalized. Knowing your students on this level will be critical to when you're helping them design projects or work through learning activities. The animation example that I used above was an actual project that one of my students did. She turned a subject that she found boring, neurotransmission, and made it more exciting and engaging by creating an animation that demonstrated this concept. I knew she was a creator and helped her design her project around that passion. Relationship building is huge and sometimes you have to work at it.
3. Guide students through the process of developing learning experiences that are challenging, authentic, and innovative -
Just because students make choices in student-directed learning doesn't mean they're always going to be great decisions! They need your guidance, expertise, connections, and advice. If you know your students, you will know if they're not challenging themselves, if their project design doesn't align with their goals, if they could expand their authentic audience, or if their project plan just doesn't match up with their learning objectives.
My students design their projects using a project proposal. I walk the room while they hash out their project plans, check their proposals, offer suggestions, and sign off on them. I have that blank PBL project proposal and other helpful student-directed PBL templates in my store in a bundle called "PBL Toolkit".
The picture above shows one of my students learning about history through photography. Getting to know this student I discovered she was interested in photography. She needed history credit so she decided to stage major events in history, take and edit photos, and write a description of the events. She eventually developed an entire gallery of recreated historical events. She CHOSE her final product, a way of demonstrating learning that was of interest to her. I guided her through this process. I was so impressed by her results that I created a guided PBL project around this idea and it's available in my store - History Through Artistic Expression.
4. Help students create and manage personal learning plans -
A personal learning plan is a great tool for student-directed learning. It is a plan that includes personal goals, interests, learning styles, project ideas, deadlines, etc. It can really include whatever you feel helps guide students. It's helpful to pull that plan out when students are designing projects or learning experiences. My job as facilitator is to help them write this plan and modify it as they learn and grow. My personal learning plan template is also included in my PBL Toolkit.
5. Assist students with finding resources -
I think my biggest job as a facilitator is to help students find accurate and relevant information, connect with community experts, gather materials, and recognize learning opportunities. Student-directed learning really teaches kids how to be resourceful, especially if you do project-based learning. If you don't know what I mean by that, go back to my previous post on the principles of pbl. I taught a biotechnology seminar a while ago. One of my students was really interested in algae as a biofuel. I connected him with the researchers at the algae lab of the U of M, and my student took it from there. I modeled how to find an authentic learning experience relevant to his interests and learning objectives, he learned from that, and eventually was able to find these opportunities for himself.
At the time when the Syrian refugee crisis reached its peak, a group of my students chose to raise money by having a holiday pie fundraiser. This was their plan for their student-directed community action project that I assigned. Also in my store. I helped them locate resources, in this case, ingredients for pies, by connecting with and arranging deals with local orchards.
6. Provide input and feedback -
Giving students consistent feedback is not only critical for growth and improvement, but students need it, desire it, and ask for it. Because they're not getting immediate and concrete feedback, such as a red check mark over an incorrect answer to a worksheet, they can feel a little lost at times. It is your job as the facilitator to observe their learning process, give them pointers, ask that they go back to the drawing board, etc. I have my students complete self-assessments periodically throughout the learning experience. In most cases with my students it's a rubric for project-based learning. I then go over the assessment with the student one-on-one. Formative assessments or quick end of the day reflections are great also, and are a little more efficient. Find a system that works for you.
7. Organize events that showcase student work to the community-
There are so many interesting and creative ways to present final products to an authentic audience. One great default presentation option for students is to put final products on display at an organized event such as an exhibition night. I have a project in my store that is all about heritage. Every year my students complete this project and then we host a multicultural night for friends, family, and community members. Part of my job as a facilitator in a student-directed learning environment is to plan these events. I do, and I love it!
8. Organize learning activities and sparks -
Not all time in my school learning environment is spent working independently on projects. We have group discussions, we do group projects, we go on field trips, do service learning, travel, watch the news together, invite speakers, host events, and do team building activities. I even do direct-instruction at times. I'm not above that. I just limit it as much as possible. Many of these learning activities are connected to student-projects in some way, but some of them aren't. Some of them are simply done to inform students, start dialog about an important issue or concept, or ignite a spark in a student or two. A huge part of my job is to find, plan, and coordinate these learning opportunities for students.
The photo all the way to the left is a speaker, Dr. Fisch, a Holocaust survivor and artist. A coworker of mine arranged for him to come in to speak to the school. The photo in the middle is a field trip to the Wildlife Science Center. I brought students there to spark interest and gather information for their endangered species projects (look for this free resource in my store). The photo on the far right is of a student at a class team building event that I arranged.
9. Provide students with the tools to be successful student-directed learners -
Student-directed learning does not have to be chaotic. You can and should give structure. It is your job as their instructor to provide the tools they need to direct their own learning. Project-proposals, parameters and deadlines, guidelines for project reflections, graphic organizers, formative assessments, etc. are all great examples of devices that will help your students transition to great student-directed learners. They will need a system, at least right away. In time the hope is that they can become less dependent on you, as throughout the year they will be developing the skills to work more independently.
10. Everything else that comes with territory of being a teacher -
You wear a lot of hats regardless of teaching style. The same goes for teachers in student-directed learning environments. You will always have a student or two that are distracting other students. You will have students that walk in the door with baggage or trauma. You need to manage tardies and absences, and grade and evaluate student work. The list goes on. With student-directed learning, however, some behavioral issues are reduced because students have choice and autonomy. Their learning experiences are based on interest and real-life.
That was long! Thanks for hearing me out. Student-directed learning is powerful and it's worth considering if you don't already use this approach. If you do student-directed learning in your classroom or learning environment, please share about your experience!
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for more on experiential education, and check out my TpT store for experiential learning resources.
My entire teaching career was at one school, and the philosophy is strongly rooted in "community" as the foundation for learning. In nine years teaching there I developed a deep appreciation for student-involvement in the community.
Students have the capacity to make massive waves of change because they are young, technologically savvy, and many injustices happening in the world today are happening to them, impacting them directly. What they need from us are the tools, skills, and knowledge to have their voices heard. They have opinions, they have ideas. They just need a nudge, some guidance, and a little confidence.
I designed a project that gives students the tools, skills, and knowledge that they need for a lifetime of community work and activism. Check out Community Action Projects at Experiential Learning Depot.
My community action projects are entirely student-led. They are a cool mix of project-based learning, problem-based learning, and service-learning. Students identify important issues in the local and global community, explore solutions, create action plans, and take action.
These types of projects teach many important social-emotional skills such as empathy and self-reliance. They help students develop essential life and career skills such as collaboration and responsible citizenship. Most importantly, action in the community gives students the tools to make a positive impact long after they have completed the project, finished the class, or graduated from school.
You can take a look at my Community Action Project Tool Kit for all of the guiding materials needed for student-led CAP.
I also encourage you to grab my project assessment e-portfolio, free when you join my newsletter. Students add project outcomes such as evidence of final products, community collaborations, rubrics, reflections, etc. Have students manage their own community action project learning outcome into one beautiful and easy-to-navigate assessment portfolio for free.
Student-Led Service Learning Projects for Secondary Students
There are many ways students can take action in the community today! Here are four such ways:
1) Giving Time/Volunteering/Community Service:
Giving time is one way students can be active in the community. Students can organize a community involvement club, have a weekly community clean-up days, regular visits to a food shelf, take on a role at a relevant established organization, and so on. Inspire students to identify community issues that matter to them, and to give their time to that cause.
Students love fundraising! Encourage them to direct that spirit toward a cause that is meaningful or relevant in their lives. Many people don't have the means to donate money from their own pockets, especially students. They can plan and host a fundraiser for a specific cause and donate money to a worthy cause that way.
3) Advocating for Legislation:
This is a really important learning experience for students to have in my opinion. In many cases it is the most effective course of action one could take. The Minnesota Association of Alternative Programs (MAAP) coordinates an annual "Legislative Day", where students from across the state come to the capital to speak with their legislators. This is a powerful way for students to be heard. This type of action also teaches students important citizenship concepts, among other things. I had a student who personally contacted her legislator to discuss a bill that would help ex-convicts get jobs, an important and personal issue to this particular student. That legislator traveled a long distance to come and meet with my student.
4) Education/Raising Awareness:
Education is the most effective course of action in making long-term change. Say what you will about social media, but in this case, it is a huge ally. Information travels fast, far and wide when shared on social media platforms. Students are especially competent with technology. A simple awareness campaign poster posted on social media will reach more people in 5 minutes than a flier would in weeks. Encourage your students to utilize these 21st C. communication skills to their benefit and the benefit of the community. If social media is not an option, challenge students to spread awareness far and wide without it.
There are so many ways students can be active members of their communities. What seems like a small and simple gesture may not be small and simple for some. I had a student who wanted to get a crosswalk put into a high traffic area near the school. Getting a crosswalk put in may not bring world peace, but it's something, and an important something to that student and her community.
Change the world one project at a time! Have a great school week everyone.
I have been writing this blog for a little over one year. I have spent a lot energy in that time reading books on education, talking with educators, researching pedagogy, and simply observing common trends. This post includes trends that fit my philosophy. My list of top educational trends of 2019 comes from observation and experience. I have not run any fancy analytics programs or produced any actual data. So do with that what you will. You can take it as a grain of salt, or you can try some of the trends on my list and see for yourself.
Many of the trends I list below are not new. The philosophy of the school where I have spent 12 years of my life is structured around many of these trends. These trends have had such a strong presence in the educational scene within the last couple of years because we know they work for 21st-century students. They are based on the rapidly evolving world we find ourselves in. What used to make sense or what we used to do just doesn’t make sense anymore. With the world changing as quickly as it is, we are forced to really consider these ideas. Social media and other forms of technology have completely altered the way we communicate and learn.
Notice patterns as you read the list. A few themes that I have identified include student-centered learning, hands-on learning, inquiry-based learning, connecting content with real-world issues, relationship building, student choice and voice, and technology and innovation. The overarching theme is a student-centered model necessary in developing the skills needed in the 21st-century. Therefore, I don't see these trends going anywhere. But we shall see!
Note: All resources on Experiential Learning Depot on TpT are up to 25% off until midnight tonight.
Top Educational Trends of 2019
1) Social-Emotional Learning -
"Social emotional skills" is a buzz phrase in education now because those are skills students need today, arguably more so than content knowledge. Information is at their fingertips. Impulse-control, empathy, compassion and so on are essential.
2) 21st Century Skills -
This one is highly interconnected to the other trends listed here. The others provide learning opportunities that develop the essential skills needed in the 21st century. Some examples include problem-solving skills, communication, creativity, technical literacy, and critical thinking, among others. Looking over my archives of posts, you'll find that MOST of my them are related to skill-building in some way or another. Click on the link in my archives titled "21st-century skills" for specifics. You can also check out my 21st-Century Skills Portfolio resource in my store.
3) STEM/STEAM -
STEM and STEAM are hot right now. No pun intended! - STEAM...;) Both strengthen many of the 21st century skills mentioned above. STEM is an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math. STEAM is the same but includes art. Look back at my guest posts on STEM and STEAM for details, and stay-tuned for future posts and resources on practical STEM applications.
4) Maker Education -
Maker education is a student-centered learning model that emphasizes design thinking. Learners identify everyday problems, brainstorm solutions that they can "make". They ideate, make a prototype, test their product on an authentic audience, make adjustments, and so on. This instructional approach is highly student-centered and helps learners build important skills such as teamwork and critical thinking. "Failure" is not only acceptable, but encouraged. It deepens the learning experience. Head to Experiential Learning Depot on TpT to check out my maker resources. You can also head to the archives and click on "Maker Education" for posts.
5) College and Career Readiness -
This is an important aspect of any secondary learning environment. Authentic experiences MUST be a priority. My coworker is a genius at this. She started something called a "life plan" that all students must have in order to graduate. I have a few college and career readiness resources in my store, one of which is my 21st-Century Skills Portfolio, which I already mentioned. This is a GREAT way for students to build skills and add authentic experiences to their college and career portfolios. You can also check out my project-based learning resource, Career Exploration.
6) Blended Learning -
From my understanding, blended learning is a combination of classic schooling with online learning. I'm realizing, however, that it's not that simple. I think people that practice true blended learning have a precise understanding of a much more complex picture than just a mix of tech and teacher. I think there is a little personal learning thrown in there as well, among other principles that are still a bit of an enigma to me.
7) Project-Based Learning -
My pride and joy. My entire career has been dedicated to project-based learning. Check out the blog posts I've done on PBL for details (links to some below) and check out my project-based learning resources on TpT.
8) Genius Hour/Passion Projects -
Genius hour and passion projects are two very different things. I lumped them together because students direct the experience in both. The learning experiences are interest-driven. Genius hour, for example, gives students one hour to dive deeply into one topic of their choice. I love the idea, but would love to see it change to genius day. An hour is not enough. Passion projects are similar in that students choose one topic to research. Rather than spending one hour on the topic, the students spend a significant amount of time on this project.
9) Brain-Based Learning -
The point of brain-based learning is to teach in a way or provide a learning environment that supports the brain and cognitive development. This comes up often in the debate about whether kindergarteners need to be or should be learning to read and write. It also includes the very popular whole-brain teaching strategy. Brain-based learning means taking into consideration what the brain needs (safety, camaraderie, enrichment) and what it doesn't need (shaming, humiliation). The philosophy of my school is based on the child's brain and cognitive development, which is why we take an experiential approach.
10) Trauma Informed Practices -
I don't know enough about trauma informed practices, unfortunately. I have worked with at-risk students for almost 12 years. Every one of them has experienced one or more traumatic experiences in their lives, yet I'm still ill-equipped to help. Number 9 and trauma informed practices are interconnected; they go hand-in-hand. Understanding how trauma impacts the brain is essential. If you're interested in trauma informed teaching, ACES is a great place to start. I also recommend reading the book "Eyes are Never Quiet". If you have any resource or training suggestions that are about trauma informed teaching, leave it in the comments!
11) Alternative Grading Systems -
This concept is simple. Some schools are starting to move away from A-F grading systems. Many combine letter grades with portfolios. Others have eliminated grades all together and complete narratives for each student instead. Others combine the two. The purpose is to reduce academic related stressors. Check out my post on colleges that have moved to alternative grading systems.
12) Personal Learning -
Personal learning focuses on the student. It addresses student needs and skill levels in addition to backgrounds, homelife, learning styles, intelligences, and most importantly in my opinion, INTERESTS. Students are designing their own educational journey with teachers there to facilitate. Check out my posts on personal learning for details.
13) Problem-Based Learning -
Rather than students receiving a lecture with numbers and stats on an assigned issue, students identity real-world issues that are relevant to their own interests and realities, they learn about the issue by making their own observations, they ask questions, explore the issue, brainstorm solutions and propose the solution to an authentic audience. The number of 21st-century skills developed in problem-based learning is astounding. Head to my store for problem-based learning resources, including my student-directed tool kit.
14) Lifelong Learning -
Lifelong learning encompasses all of the trends listed here in one. It is having the tools to learn long after "schooling" is over. College and career readiness, 21st-century skill building, social-emotional learning, brain-based learning, etc. all instill a passion for learning. When students WANT to learn, when they KNOW HOW TO learn, they will continue to learn throughout their lives.
15) Growth Mindset -
There is a growth mindset and a fixed mindset. A growth mindset acknowledges that skills can come through hard work and determination vs. fixed mindset which is the opposite. Promoting and encouraging a growth mindset with students is a major trend right now, and I can see why.
16) Self-Assessments -
This is when students take an active role in a learning outcome. Students grow by periodically self-assessing. They learn how to fail, pick themselves back up, go back to the drawing board, modify and try again. To take it a step further, students can even create their own assessments. I have my students create their own project rubrics. That rubric template is available in my TpT store. Check it out here - Student-Generated Project Rubric.
17) Authentic Learning -
I've already mentioned authentic learning several times in this post because so many of the trends that I've listed here depend on them. Authentic learning experiences are those that are relevant to the topic and the student. Project-based learning can be distinguished from other approaches to learning by its emphasis on authentic experiences.
18) Homeschooling, Worldschooling, Outschooling, Road Schooling, Unschooling!
I have always been curious about homeschooling. I left my full-time teaching job three years ago to be home with my kids. I started this blog, started an Experiential Learning Depot Instagram account, and was instantly blown away by the homeschooling presence on Instagram. Of course, homeschooling is not a novel concept, but I do think it is becoming more common, and access to social media outlets make it apparent just how popular home education has become. The variety of homeschooling styles is vast, and almost all of those styles encompass the experiential philosophy, of which I am, of course, a huge fan. I am so fascinated by worldschooling right now and hope to worldschool my own children someday. For now I will continue to live vicariously through the hundreds of thousands of worldschoolers and other home educators on Instagram! ;)
19) Student Leadership
This post is an updated version of last years post, "Educational Trends of 2018". A reader commented last year that I should add student leadership when it comes to school improvement. My response to him at the time was that I wasn't sure if student leadership trended in 2018, but I wished that it would in 2019. Personally, I don't see students taking the lead when it comes to school improvement as a common occurrence. It doesn't mean that it's not happening. If you know of cases, schools, instances, where students are taking leadership roles in school improvement, I would love to hear more about that. Drop your comments.
There are, of course, more trends in education than what I listed here. The ones that I listed are my favorites and those that I believe are worth nurturing and fortifying. What are your favorite education trends of 2019?
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Happy New Year, Everyone!
I have received comments lately from other parents and educators that follow Experiential Learning Depot that I appear so collected and have everything together all of the time. I assure you that I'm not, and I don't, especially when it comes to my own children. Kids will always throw us curve balls. They're wired to do so!
The same goes for my students. My educational approach is experiential education, thus, child-led learning. I blog about project-based learning more than any other experiential learning activity because it is where I have the most experience and I've seen powerful outcomes.
But it's not perfect. That is the reality. As with any pedagogy, there will be snags at times, mishaps, challenges, and disappointments, but I try to look at those setbacks as opportunities - for students AND educators - in disguise. What feels like defeat just may be an opportunity for learning and growth.
For those of you that are transitioning to project-based learning either on your own or with my Project-Based Learning Bundle and Implementation Guide or PBL Tool Kit, you have likely come across some pitfalls. I've listed some challenges below that come up the most often in my learning environment, and I hope to shed some light on the "why" and "what to do".
One way to overcome some of these challenges is to give students autonomy and accountability. Let them design their own projects and manage their own learning outcomes. When you join my newsletter you get a free project-based learning assessment e-Portfolio, where students can add project descriptions, evidence of learning, rubric scores, reflections, standards and goals met, and more. Grab that here for free! Then read on.
Common Project-Based Learning Challenges and Troubleshooting Tips
Student-directed learning activities give students choice in process and outcome. When it comes to student-directed PBL the hope is that students choose to do projects on topics of interest. That becomes challenging when students tell you that they don't have any interests. This problem comes up often, and it is truly painful at times for everyone involved, including the student. Don't take it personally and don't give up! There is hope!
Everyone has interests. If you have a student saying they don't have any, start digging around for the source of this declaration. If the student is new, they might not feel comfortable with you yet. Other students might have interests but don't have the skills to identify them (yet). Others may bring personal struggles through the door. Before labeling your students as apathetic, first try to understand the source of their disinterest. Sit down and talk to them. Learn about them. Relationship-building is the key to this problem. By knowing each student on a personal level you can help them figure out the struggle, set personal goals, AND identify their interests and skills for potential projects.
2. Low Productivity
This is one of the most common problems with anything that is student-directed. You are giving them choice and freedom, which is wonderful in so many ways. Having choice and autonomy is empowering, but students may not know what to do with this freedom, especially if they are new to student-directed PBL. They often, then, choose not to do anything with it.
This is another challenge that can be largely resolved with relationship-building. Learn what drives and motivates them and what does not. Students new to PBL may be unproductive because they simply do not know what to do. Student-directed project-based learning is child-led, yes, but it's also structured. Your job is to provide them with the tools to direct the experience. Give them the appropriate templates, implement consistent checkpoints, and provide feedback often. Another student might have all of the tools and experience, and still be unproductive. Do some observing and digging. Are they easily distracted? Are they overwhelmed with tasks? Are they exhausted? Work with students one-on-one to determine the source of low-productivity. Once the source has been identified, tweak expectations and/or help students create relevant and attainable goals.
3. Poor Quality Projects
Pretty simple. Students produce projects that are well below their capabilities. There are many problems with that and if you recognize it as a pattern in a student or two, nip it in the bud quickly.
I wrote an entire blog post a while ago about how to boost PBL project quality, so I won't get into too much here. Check out the link for specific tips and tricks. But generally, if students are producing poor quality work, the root of the problem is likely you. It took me years to understand this, and my students still test my boundaries and expectations. As my post emphasizes, establishing a culture of quality work from the start is critical, and that is on you.
4. Burning Bridges
Project-based learning is different than a standard project for several reasons, one of which is the use of community experts. Students rely on the community as a critical source of information. Occasionally a student doesn't show up for a meeting with a community expert that you organized. Regardless of the reason, it reflects poorly on you and bridges are burned.
The solution? Don't stop trying. It can be frustrating, but guiding meaningful connections between students and community members is part of your job as a facilitator. You can also ask that the student deliver an apology letter and write a personal reflection, depending on the situation. Help the child empathize. You can also ask that the student arrange their own community experts for a while. Let them take ownership.
5. Shortage of Willing Community Participants
Cooperation between students and community members is not always seamless and is not entirely on the shoulders of the students. Occasionally, students or myself will get rejected by a community expert when asked to get involved in a student's project. One of my favorite local artists flat out said "I don't work with teeangers."
At first I was furious with this artist, feeling very defensive of my students. Everyone has a right to their opinion, however, and in some situations, all you can really do is move on. You might also consider pushing a little more by tactfully helping them see that children bring something to the table. Organize collaborations with community members that are mutually beneficial. Give AND take is essential for building strong community connections.
6. Incomplete Projects
Projects fizzle out. Students start a project, work diligently on it for all of one day, and never return to it again. Pretty straight-forward.
You may have noticed a theme throughout this post; student-directed project-based learning is not a one-size-fits-all model. One student may ditch a project for an entirely different reason than another student. Handle the issue on an individual basis. Observe their behaviors and ask yourself if lack of project completion is a pattern for the student or an isolated incident. If it's a pattern than they may be struggling with organization, get easily distracted, lose interest easily, or lack specific skills that would normally promote follow-through. Sit down with these students and talk one-on-one. Identify potential sources of the problem and write goals together. Organize regular check-ins and offer consistent feedback.
If a student ditching a project is an isolated incident, however, you might just give them a pass. But you should still sit down and go through the details to understand their motivation. Keep an eye out to ensure that bouncing between 5 projects at a time and not finishing any of them doesn't become the norm. Communication between you and your students is key.
Let’s recap. Yes, PBL is challenging to implement at times, especially if you are a beginner. Even seasoned project-based educators make mistakes. We reflect, grow, and learn just as we ask our students to. The key to troubleshooting is relationship-building. Learn what drives and motivates your students. You'll figure it out together.
For more experiential learning tips, tricks, updates, resource alerts, and freebies, follow Experiential Learning Depot on TPT, Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook.
A few weeks ago I received a private message from a follower on Instagram asking me where she could find my project-based learning resource, "Plan a Trip Around the World". I knew that she homeschooled her preschooler. This particular TpT resource, like all of my resources, is geared toward high schoolers. My follower was confused, understandably, because the cover photo of this product is a picture of my toddler daughter observing a massive globe, not a teenager. I messaged her back to tell her that the product as is wouldn't be a good resource for a preschooler, but could be modified to work for younger audiences by simply changing the language and level of guidance. I would make it my personal mission to adapt it to work for a 5-year-old. And I did. I knew it could be done because it's project-based learning, and PBL works for everyone!
Every learner is their own person. I have found project-based learning to not only be the most effective way to accommodate for the unique qualities of every child, age and skill level included, but to celebrate those unique qualities.
(scroll to the bottom to check out my preschoolers trip around the world.)
Who Can Benefit From Project-Based Learning?
The beauty of project-based learning is that it's not designed for or exclusive to any particular learner. I often get comments about my resources and how wonderful they would be for the "gifted and talented". I don't doubt that, but they are certainly not limited to "gifted and talented" students.
Project-based learning ALSO works for learners that are behind because of personal setbacks along the road. It works well for learners in large classrooms and small, in traditional and alternative learning environments, for those learning from home, and for those outschooling, unschooling, and worldschooling! Project-based learning works for the young, the old, the artistic, the scientific, English language learners, the introverts, the extroverts, the kinesthetic, the visual, the dreamers and idealists, the concrete thinkers, the abstract thinkers, those that have experienced trauma, and so on and so on. This is true when the projects are student-directed; when learners have choice.
How Does Project-Based Learning Accommodate All Learners?
When I say project-based learning "works for" all learners, what I mean is that project-based learning effectively promotes deeper learning of content, independent thinking, and the development of 21st-century skills for all. The result of project-based learning is passionate, lifelong learners. All children have access to the same learning opportunities. The difference is in how each student develops the skills and knowledge. Learning experiences, or projects in this case, are designed by each individual student to accommodate their unique needs and qualities.
This is how it works:
Project-based learning, when child-directed, allows learners to design projects around their interests, learning styles, skill levels, strengths, goals, and more. The elements of project-based learning include a driving question, research sub-categories or questions, the use of community experts, an innovative final product, and authentic presentations. Some project-based instructors also have their students create their own rubrics (see my student-generated rubric and criteria word bank).
Each of these elements presents a new opportunity for student choice. Each student can choose their experts, their research method, their final product, and who they will share it with. If one student prefers hands-on learning experiences, for example, they may gather information on their topic through interviews and shadowing experiences. Another student may really like to read, so may research their topic by perusing publications. One student may love to draw and may choose to demonstrate knowledge by illustrating a children's book. Another student may have set a goal of improving their writing, so may choose to demonstrate an understanding of the same concept by writing a research paper.
The elements of project-based learning make adapting and modifying curriculum to fit the needs of each unique learner seamless. As a bonus, the learning experiences are fun for the students because the students have a role in creating those experiences.
***I highly recommend going back through posts from my project-based learning series to learn more about PBL if you haven't already or are not that familiar with how it works.
How Do I Implement Authentic, Student-Directed PBL?
My advisory students do something similar to "passion projects" throughout the year - independent, student-directed, project-based learning. Each student determines their own project topic based on interests, they choose their own experts, decide their outcomes, and many even design their own assessments.
This type of project-based learning is useful and common in homeschool environments, project-based schools, advisory programs, alternative schools, elementary classrooms, and even large traditional learning environments where educators are given the support and flexibility to be creative with their teaching.
How Do I Implement PBL in a Subject-Specific Learning Environment?
I also teach subject-specific seminars, which are also project-based. That type of project-based learning would be facilitated by educators that teach subject units, such as a high school history or biology teacher. To accommodate all learners in this scenario, where you have specific topics and learning objectives in mind, you present the topic or driving question, and your students design their own projects around that theme. They would have choice in some or all of the other PBL elements - how to gather information, which experts to use, how they will demonstrate learning, and who they will share their final product with.
Some teachers will deliver "project-based learning" in a way that doesn't give students choice. The teacher chooses the experts and makes all of the arrangements. The teacher assigns a specific final product, such as a research paper, to ALL students. This is technically still project-based learning, but this approach does not accommodate the needs of diverse learners. It also puts a lot on you. Student-directed PBL takes all learners into consideration. Without student choice, project-based learning is just more teacher-centered pedagogy, which is fine if you're not interested in modifying curriculum to fit the needs of all students. I assume you are interested in that, however, if you're reading this post.
Trip Around the World Project by C.S. (5-year-old)
As I said earlier, I have a follower who was hoping one of my high school resources would work well for her preschooler - planning a trip around the world. By adjusting the expectations, modifying the level of guidance, and offering the 5-year-old choice (in this case my son), this mission was accomplished! Check it out:
The first strip of photos below shows my 5-year-old son doing a modified version of my "Plan a Trip Around the World" PBL project. The photo strip below that one is the same project, the one in my TpT store, completed by older students.
My child gained so much from this project. The project integrated content, helped my child develop essential skills appropriate for him at this time in his life, gave him voice and choice, and pumped him up because the project was designed around his unique needs and interests.
For student-directed project-based learning resources, check out my TpT store, 25% on all products today only. If you are a beginner, start with my PBL Bundle and Implementation Guide. For templates that guide through the student-directed project-based learning process on ANY topic, check out my Project-Based Learning Tool Kit.
Follow Experiential Learning Depot on Pinterest and Instagram for more on project-based learning and experiential education.
To provide innovative educational resources for educators, parents, and students, that go beyond lecture and worksheets.
Sara Segar, experiential life-science educator and advisor, curriculum writer, and mother of two.