September 6, 2014 • Piedmont Elementary School


Not only do projects motivate students because they can be an authentic use of technology, they also facilitate active learning, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity. Projects begin with a driving question–an open-ended question that focuses the project by creating interest and curiosity. Writing effective driving questions is surprisingly challenging. You want the question to be irresistible to students, which means it cannot sound like a test question. There are strategies for refining driving questions that lead to student-focused inquiry.


  • 8:00am-9:45am: Mini Project, PBL Inspiration, Project Sampler
  • 9:45am-10:00am: Break
  • 10:00am-11:30am: Develop & Refine & Share Driving Questions
  • 11:30-12:15 : Lunch
  • 12:15-2:00: Assessing Projects, Reflection, Review Game


Chances are students will need to use some images in their final products. Since final products are likely to be published online, it's a good idea to use public domain and creative commons licensed images. 

  • Search thousands of images and use them for free. All images are public domain, so they don't even require an attribution (though it is still a good idea to give credit). When downloading, choose PNG for the best quality.
  • Search clipart and photograph. Like OpenClipart, all images are public domain. You will need to sign in if you want to download high resolution images.
  • Choose from thousands of simple icons to represent people, places, things, and ideas. You need to create an account to download. Most icons require you to give credit to the designer if you want to use the icon for free, but some are public domain. When you download from The Noun Project, you get a Zip file. In order to use the icon on an iPad, you have to use an app like Documents 5 to unzip and save the image. Follow the step below. Watch this animated GIF to see the steps.
    1. Download an icon.

    2. Open in Documents 5.

    3. Click the zip file to unzip.

    4. Open the icon folder.

    5. Click the icon’s image file.

    6. Click the Share button and Save to Gallery.

Get Parents Excited about Project Based Learning

Convince parents that project based learning is a good instructional strategy. Here's our mini-project checklist. Our mini-projects can be made using Pic Collage or Haiku Deck apps. We use Padlet to share our mini-projects.

Project Based Learning

Students work in small groups (or individually) to answer a driving question. The question is so deep that it requires much thinking and investigation. Students make a product to share their answer with an audience.

What is project based learning and what is not?  Our Chart in Google Spreadsheets

The Difference Between Doing Projects Versus Learning Through Projects



  • educating others
  • solving a problem
  • calling others to action
  • building something useful
  • planning an event
  • raising money for a purpose
  • recognizing or inspiring others
  • designing a better way to do something

Download the PDFs from our Project Sampler (those grade level sheets with QR codes). For more example projects, see the STEM MI Champions wiki.


  • How can we best stop the flu at our school?
  • How can we teach other Charleston students about helpful insects?
  • Make the case for using the metric system in West Virginia.
  • Plan a road trip across West Virginia. What should you explore and learn along the way?
  • Design a better lunch menu for Piedmont Elementary.
  • What if we had a chicken house at our school?

Maybe you'd prefer to call driving questions WILD HOG questions.

Maybe this Scaffold for Writing Driving Questions or BIE's Tubric can help you write driving questions.


The driving question should lead to more questions. These questions are more specific and can guide student research. For example, if the driving question is "What if we had a chicken house at our school?" then branching questions might be:

  • What do chickens eat?
  • How often do they eat?
  • How large of a house do they need?
  • Does the house need to have different rooms?
  • Do chickens fight with each other?
  • Encourage students to be the question-askers!
  • Use a mind-mapping app like Popplet Lite to map out branching questions.

Apps like Popplet Lite and Idea Sketch can help with brainstorming and organizing branching questions.


  • Shorten as much as possible.
  • Make sure it is appealing to students.
  • Make it personal or local.
  • Leads to more questions.
  • Don’t let it sound like a test question.

Download Tony's Driving Question Guide PDF. Open in Adobe Reader app to use as a fillable form.

The driving question is a big deal! Make a graphic or poster for your question using apps like Pic Collage or a website on your laptop like Canva.

Assessing Projects

Barron and Darling-Hammond (2008) recommend assessing these six items:

  1. use of evidence
  2. accuracy of information
  3. evaluation of competing views
  4. development of a clear argument
  5. attention to writing conventions
  6. collaboration

You can create rubrics and checklists with help from:

Here's a guide to writing scoring rubrics.

Project Based Learning Tips and Advice


"We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience." -John Dewey