Project-based learning is a hot topic in many schools these days, as educators work to make learning more meaningful for students. As students conduct hands-on projects addressing real-world issues, they dig deeper and make personal connections to the knowledge and skills they’re gaining. But not just any project fits into this concept. Learn more about strong project-based learning ideas, and find examples for any age or passion.
What is project-based learning?
Project-based learning (PBL) uses real-world projects and student-directed activities to build knowledge and skills. Kids choose a real-world topic that’s meaningful to them (some people call these “passion projects”), so they’re engaged in the process from the beginning. These projects are long-term, taking weeks, months, or even a full semester or school year. Students may complete them independently or working in small groups. Learn much more about project-based learning here.
What makes a good PBL project?
In many ways, PBL is more like the work adults do in their daily jobs, especially because student efforts have potential real-world effects. A strong PBL project:
- Addresses a real-world issue or problem
- Requires sustained and independent inquiry, in and out of the classroom
- Allows students voice and choice throughout the project
- Combines elements of many disciplines
- Includes collaboration with public partners, such as universities, community organizations, or businesses
- Produces a public product that is seen by those outside the school community
- Covers a complete process, including activities like research, design, production, marketing or public awareness, and enlisting supporters or investors
Outdoor Project-Based Learning Ideas
- Create a new local park, or improve an existing one by adding new features or providing needed maintenance.
- Plant a community garden to provide food for a soup kitchen, food pantry, or other organization.
- Design and create a butterfly, pollinator, or other wildlife garden to support the local ecosystem.
- Build a new walking or biking trail that’s safe for people of all ages to use.
- Devise and implement a way to reduce litter in your community.
- Set up and manage a school or community compost pile, and distribute the resulting soil to those who need it most.
- Find and help the public use a new way to grow food that requires less soil, water, or fertilizers, which are in short supply in some parts of the world.
- Design, build, and install a completely unique piece of playground equipment that serves a specific purpose or need.
School Community Project-Based Learning Ideas
- Start a comprehensive recycling program at school, or substantially improve participation in an existing one.
- Add collaborative artwork like murals or other displays to school hallways, bathrooms, or grounds.
- Determine a location or program at your school that needs improvement, then make a plan, raise the funds, and implement your ideas.
- Come up with ways to celebrate your school’s diversity and improve relationships between all students.
- Start and run a school store, including inventory, financial plans, and marketing.
- Write a school handbook for new students, with tips and tricks for helping them feel at home.
- Figure out how to offer healthier, better-tasting meals and snacks in the school cafeteria.
- Implement a mentoring program for older students to help younger students, with planned activities and appropriate training for older students.
- Design and propose a new style of grading system that ensures equity.
- Find ways to improve the indoor recess experience at your school.
- Set up and run a new school newspaper, magazine, podcast, video channel, etc.
Greater Community Project-Based Learning Ideas
- Coordinate a community art project in a central location to celebrate local culture or artists.
- Set up a program for schoolkids to socialize with senior citizens in nursing homes, hospitals, or retirement communities.
- Create a program to offer free translation services for ESL families in the community.
- Help a local animal shelter improve its facilities, or find new ways to match homeless pets with their forever families.
- Build and maintain Little Free Libraries around your community, especially in underserved areas.
- Help local businesses become more environmentally conscious, increasing sustainability and decreasing waste.
- Create and lead a walking tour of your community, highlighting its culture, history, landmarks, and more.
- Find a way to record and celebrate local voices in your community’s history.
- Come up with ideas for welcoming immigrants and other newcomers to your community.
- Set up a series of events that will encourage the community to mix and experience each others’ foods, cultures, and more.
- Create and implement a new program to inspire a love of books and reading in preschool students.
- Set up and help run a new charitable organization your community needs.
Social Issues Project-Based Learning Ideas
- Start an awareness campaign on a topic that’s important to you, like anti-bullying, healthy living, protecting the environment, civil rights, equality and equity, etc.
- Come up with and implement ways to increase voter turnout in your community, especially among younger voters.
- Write, record, and share with a wider audience your own TED Talk–style video on an issue that hasn’t been covered yet or on which you have a unique perspective.
- Devise and implement ways for unheard voices to be amplified in your school or community.
- Write and publicly perform a play that highlights a social issue that’s important to you.
- Look for areas in your community that present challenges to those with disabilities, and help to improve them to overcome those challenges.
- Research, write, and publicly present and defend a position paper on an issue that’s important to your community.
- Choose a real court case, then research the law and work with legal experts to prepare and present your own case as you would in a courtroom.
- Write, edit, seek, and incorporate real-world feedback, and publish or publicly present your own book, poem, or song on an issue that’s important to you.
- Start a program to teach a specific group (e.g., preschoolers, senior citizens, business owners) to care for and protect the environment.
- Plan and hold a fundraiser to support an issue you care about.
- Choose a law you feel is unjust, and write, research, and publicly present and defend a position paper about your desired change.
STEM Project-Based Learning Ideas
- Create an app that meets a specific purpose for a specific audience.
- Invent something new that the world needs, and then fund, create, and sell your product in the community.
- Design a game to help students learn important STEM concepts.
- Find a simple way to improve an existing product, especially if it cuts costs or improves environmental sustainability.
- Explore ways to reduce the amount of waste we produce, especially plastic and other landfill-bound items.
- Write a book or graphic novel that’s entertaining but also teaches kids about science or math.
- Devise new ways to provide clean drinking water to communities where water is scarce.
- Build an effective solar oven people can use to cook during extended power outages, or in areas where electricity isn’t available.
- Work with a university or STEM organization to gather, analyze, and present real-world scientific data.
- Design a building to fit a specific purpose or need, including researching the requirements and zoning laws, accurately drafting a plan, determining the costs, and presenting the plan to the proposed client.
- Create an interactive hands-on exhibit to teach people about STEM concepts.
- Determine a type of website you believe is missing, then research, build, and publish the site you envision.
Creative Arts Project-Based Learning Ideas
- Organize an art show for the community, seeking out those who ordinarily might not have a chance to display their work.
- Create and teach an art class in your area of expertise to children, the elderly, or another segment of the population.
- Design a mural for an area in your community that needs beautification, and seek funding or other assistance from community members to install it.
- Write a play about a topic that’s meaningful to you or your community. Work with the community to stage a performance for all to attend.
- Invite local dancers to perform at a school or community Festival of Dance, highlighting a variety of cultures and dance styles.
- Start a regular writer’s workshop where community writers can come together to share and seek feedback. Invite local authors or publishing experts to speak as guests.
- Collect stories, poems, and essays from local authors, and put them together into a book. Sell the book to raise money for a cause that’s important to local writers.
- Gather singers or instrumentalists from your community into a choir or band. Put on a concert to raise money for a special cause, or take your choir on tour to local retirement homes, hospitals, etc.
- Write a song about a person or cause that’s important to you. Produce and record the song, then find a way to share it with others.
- Make a short film about a local hero, community event, or local place. Invite others to do the same, and organize a local film festival.