teacher attic

Here at PBLWorks, we often wrestle with a creative tension between usability and relevance: 

How do we provide resources that are accessible and straightforward for teachers who have limited time, while also ensuring that the projects students experience are authentic, culturally responsive, relevant, and rigorous?

While some teachers love to design all their projects from scratch, many teachers find value in building on an existing idea—either from another teacher or from a source like the PBLWorks project idea library.

Whenever you build a project (but especially when you’re adapting an existing idea), reflecting on the following three key areas can help you “make the project your own.”

1. Consider Your Students

As you think about adapting or designing a project, consider what you know about your students’ interests, strengths, needs, and backgrounds, and how that knowledge can inform your project development. Are your students passionate about music or video games or animals? Do they speak more than one language at home? Do they have jobs or family responsibilities outside of school? 

Reflect on how you can use the relationships you have with students, and what you know about their lives and concerns, to build rich connections to their learning in projects. For example, if you are implementing a version of the Lifting Our Voices project, think about sharing speeches from public figures your students admire, and about focusing on the specific issues you know your students care about.

Also ensure that all of your students are fully included in the project. For example, if you are facilitating a variation on the Planning to Thrive project, consider how your students with physical disabilities might engage in the physical activity portion of the project, and how to be inclusive of a range of food cultures and dietary preferences.

Above all, take an asset-based approach to your reflection on students: they bring so many gifts into the classroom, and projects offer an opportunity for them to build on these gifts and share them with others.

2. Consider the Context

In addition to reflecting on the particular students in your class, think about the school and community in which you work. Consider the resources available to you within and beyond the school building, and how to make the project relevant and authentic in your area.

For example, as you plan a variation of the Making Space for Change project, you might think about the specific places in your community that could benefit from a redesign. You might also consider the expertise in your community-- are there architects, urban planners, local government workers, or landscapers who could speak with your students and provide mentorship throughout the project?

Finally, consider any adaptations you might need to make to the project design to ensure its relevance and accessibility for your students. For example, if students don’t have local access to museums, can you take them on a virtual museum tour for the A Brief History of Several Billion Years project?

3. Consider the Content and Skills

Last but not least, it’s critical to take a close look at the content and skills you need to teach, and ensure that any version of a project you implement is designed to deeply teach, scaffold, and assess those standards.

What are the specific state standards at your grade level and in your content area, and how might you need to adjust the project to directly address those standards? Are there particular school-wide expectations, graduate profile skills, or career pathway outcomes that you need to incorporate? Analyze the milestones and activities throughout your project plan to ensure you have incorporated explicit instruction and targeted assessment of your focus learning goals.

Adapting from an existing project or project idea can be a wonderful way to build your PBL practice and bring fresh thinking into your classroom.

To support you in making the PBLWorks project ideas your own, we have provided focused reflection questions in each of these three categories for every project in the online library of project ideas. We encourage you to reflect on these anytime you are designing or adapting any project, to ensure that your project connects with students, is relevant in your community, and teaches high-leverage content and skills.

Want to learn more about adapting projects? Check out this post on How to Adapt a Project to Fit Your Students & Make It Gold Standard PBL by PBLWorks Editor in Chief John Larmer.

Sarah Field, Senior Curriculum Manager
Sarah designs professional development programs and curriculum for PBLWorks.