Monday / April 22

6 Ideas to Jump-Start PBL Planning This Summer

Meaningful projects—the ones that engage students and set the stage for deep learning—don’t happen by chance. Summer can be prime time for good project ideas to percolate. By keeping your eyes open for project possibilities, test-driving technology tools, and perhaps engaging in some do-it-yourself professional development, you’ll be primed to get off to a fast start with PBL in the fall.

Here are six suggestions to make the most of summer opportunities.

  1. Watch the headlines. News items can lead to timely, relevant projects. Keep your eyes open for “ripped-from-the-headlines” project possibilities. For example, is extreme weather affecting your community this summer? Students might investigate the relevant driving question: How can we help our community conserve water during the drought?
  1. Connect with the PBL community. Build your social network of PBL-friendly colleagues (including me @suzieboss and co-author Jane Krauss @jkrauss). You’ll discover a global community eager to share resources and offer feedback on project ideas. Follow #pblchat on Twitter to join weekly discussions focused on PBL topics (Tuesdays, 5 p.m. Pacific/8 p.m. Eastern, moderated by PBL experts from @newtechnetwork).
  1. Test-drive tech tools. If you’re hoping to integrate more digital tools into next year’s projects, give yourself a chance to test-drive some technologies outside the classroom. Use your mobile phone to make a video story about a vacation. Practice your podcasting skills by interviewing a family member about a cherished memory. Take a virtual trip to Angkor Wat, Pompei, or another world heritage site via Google World Wonders Project ( Consider how these tools, and more, could extend learning opportunities for your students.
  1. Collaborate en plein air. PBL often involves teacher collaboration, but that doesn’t have to mean sitting together in a stuffy conference room. Plan some informal “walk and talks” to discuss project ideas with your PBL partners. You’ll bring fresh perspectives (and fresh air) into your conversations.
  1. Plan your own adventure. An entry event that fires up students’ curiosity is a great way to start a project. Now’s your chance to try an entry event yourself. For example, you might be planning to launch an environmental science project by having students take a stream walk to look for evidence of pollution or wildlife habitat. Or perhaps you’re planning to launch an investigation of world conflicts by visiting a memorial site. Do these experiences create an emotional connection to the content? Do they cause you to ask questions or wonder why? Those are good indicators that you’re on the right track with your entry event idea.
  1. Do-it-yourself professional development. Extensive resources are available to help you plan effective projects. Find project planning tools and a searchable project library at the Buck Institute for Education ( Explore the video collection showcasing PBL in action at Edutopia (

Perhaps a summer book study is in your plans. Thinking Through Project-Based Learning: Guiding Deeper Inquiry includes a discussion guide (Appendix B), as well as a professional development guide (Appendix C) and more suggestions to build your PBL bookshelf.

Click here to download the Thinking Through Project-Based Learning Discussion Guide.

Click here to download the Thinking Through Project-Based Learning Professional Development Guide.

Have follow-up questions for the authors? Give us a shout-out on Twitter (@suzieboss and @jkrauss) or ask about arranging a Skype call.


Written by

Suzie Boss is a writer and educational consultant who focuses on the power of teaching and learning to improve lives and transform communities. She is the author of Bringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World and co-author with Jane Krauss of Reinventing Project-Based Learning. She contributes regularly to and the Stanford Social Innovation Review and has written for a wide range of other publications, including The New York Times, Education Leadership, and Principal Leadership. She is a member of the National Faulty of the Buck Institute for Education and has worked with educators internationally to bring project-based learning and innovation strategies to both traditional classrooms and informal learning settings. An avid tennis player, she enjoys exploring the great outdoors near her hometown of Portland, Oregon, and spending time with her husband and two sons. She is the co-author of Thinking Through Project-Based Learning.

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