Illinois Computing Educators Conference 2013

In project-based learning, students work over an extended period of time answering a driving question.  The question is so deep that it requires students to create a product to share their findings with others.

  1. Question
  2. Investigate
  3. Share

The Four Cs from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills:

  • Creativity & Innovation
  • Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • Communication
  • Collaboration 

The Common Core State Standards are what to teach. Projects might be the how to teach it.

How can we convince adults that our classrooms need to change? Education Evolution Project

Radio WillowWeb podcast for kids, by kids

Kinderworld Blog - Neighborhood Project

Make any image into an online jigsaw puzzle at Jigsaw Planet. Try this jigsaw of the definition of project-based learning. iOS users can use the Up in Pieces app to make jigsaws from any saved images. Here's an image of the definition of PBL.

Projects take an extended period of time to complete and are made for an audience.

Activities can be completed in a a matter of a few class periods and usually there is not audience.

Project-Based versus Project-Oriented Learning video by art teacher Jeff Robin.

Is learning happening just in time for it to be used for something purposeful? Or, is there a whole bunch of learning happening so that students know everything just in case they need to know it later.

Do you want to cover material for students or do you want them to uncover it for themselves? 

“The greatest obstacle to learning is coverage.” -Howard Garner

Create a grading rubric with student input. Rubistar is a great place to design rubrics. Project Based Checklists is another place to help keep students on track with their projects. Design and use rubric on your PC or iPad using ForAllRubrics.

Collaboration is the act of working together for a common goal. "Studies have shown that groups outperform individuals on learning tasks, and further that individuals who work in groups do better on later individual assignments as well." -Powerful Learning by Linda Darling-Hammond


"What is it that I am trying to get other to do, and what reasons might they have  for doing those things?" - Phillip Schletchy in Working on the Work

"Let's make a dent in the universe." - Steve Jobs

Example Driving Questions:

  1. How can we best stop the flu at our school?
  2. Is it worth the expense to move to an organic diet?
  3. Which element of the periodic table is most important?
  4. Should the U.S. use the metric system?
  5. Which simple machine is most important to you?
  6. Should government bail out businesses?
  7. Is it better to buy or lease a car?
  8. What if Rosa Parks never gave up her seat?
  9. Design a better lunch menu for your school.
  10. What if students use their own mobile devices in school?

What Makes a Good Vice President video example on YouTube.

Add parameters to the driving question to ensure that standards are met.

What makes a good vice president?

  1. Include the branch of government the position is part of.
  2. Include the roles and powers of the position.
  3. Explain how someone is elected or appointed to the position.
  4. Include information about at least two people who have held the position.
  5. Explain the role of the position in Gerald Ford's succession to presidency.
  6. Include how the office holder is positioned in the line of succession to the presidency.
  7. Include at least one map, chart, or graph.
  8. Give the project your personal touch.

Example rubric for What Makes a Good Vice President?

Driving Question Tips

  1. Where are the standards/content used in the real world?
  2. Cannot be answered with copy and paste
  3. Will the result create something new?
  4. Student voice and choice
  5. Personal and/or local
  6. What? What if? Which?

Refine the Question

  1. Shorten as much as possible.
  2. Question should appeal to students.
  3. Make it personal or local.
  4. Leads to more questions. 
  5. As much room for student voice and choice as possible.

Branching Questions - A driving question should lead to more questions. For example, in Use facts and statistics to convince others to stop your pet peeve, Tony's driving question lead to these questions to drive his investigation about shopping carts:

  • How much do door dings raise car insurance premiums?
  • Is there a time or day when more carts are left in the lot?
  • What is the affect of the distance of the cart return from the vehicle?
  • Why don't people return their carts?
  • How many parking spots are taken up by left carts.
  • Why does Phoenix seem to have a larger problem with returning carts than Omaha?
  • What if the cart return was a strip down the middle of each row?

An anchor or opening activity gets students excited, interested, and curious about the topic of the driving question.

Edutopia has great videos about project-based learning.

Idea Sketch is an app for concept mapping with diagram and outline views.

Make collaborative whiteboards on Linoit.com.

Notes, Evernote, or Google Docs for writing questions and taking notes.

Anyone can put anything on the web. Read about Google's PageRank system.

Side by Side for iPad allows for up to 4 web pages, notes, or drawings to be displayed at once.

Quintura Kids is a paid iOS app that provides a child-safe search.

Numbers can be used for data collection and graphing.


Students explore the answers to their questions through books, web, interviews, experiments, and/or data collection.

Remember that anyone can put anything on the web. Students need to be sleuths and approach their questions as a mystery that other may be trying to cover up.

Investigation can involve interviews and collecting data. Investigation doesn't have to include internet searches!


Giving students a choice in how they present their project increases authentic engagement.

Remember, how you implement project-based learning in your classroom depends on who and what you teach and what tools you have available.

Record audio using iPod touch’s built-in Voice Memos app or download an app like QuickVoice Recorder for iPad. Audio recordings can be used for interviews, skits, and reports. Even better is GarageBand. Listed to Radio WillowWeb for examples.

The Photos app is where images are saved to and imported from.

Comic Touch Lite is a free iPod touch app for adding speech bubbles and call outs to an image.

Strip Designer is a $2.99 universal app for making comic books. There's also Comic Life.

Adobe Photoshop Express is a free universal app for rotating, cropping, and enhancing images.

SonicPics is a $2.99 iPod touch app for narrating a series of images. For free, you can use Storyrobe, which has been updated and is pretty wonderful.

StoryKit is a free iPod touch app for creating a web page with boxes. Each box can contain text, images, and an audio recording. See Tony Vincent’s What Makes a Good Vice President example.

iMovie and Splice Free for movie-making.

ShowMe Interactive Whiteboard is free and makes videos that combine drawing and voice (iPad only).

Puppet Pals for iPad or Puppet Pals for iPhone for making narrated puppet shows.

Angela Maiers’ mantra: “You are a genius and the world needs your contribution.”

Tony Vincent's bookmarks tagged PBL: delicious.com/tonyvincent/pbl