• Jeffrey Hinton

PBL project design: The kickoff event

"A goal without a plan is just a wish" ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

"Expect the best, plan for the worst, and prepare to be surprised." ~Denis Waitley

"A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow." ~Proverb

My last blog post, PBL project design: How to plan projects that work, part 2. I wrote that creating a project timeline made up of milestone events is essential in keeping the project moving forward. A PBL timeline should contain the following milestone events.

· The project kickoff

· Formation of small collaborative teams

· Investigate and research the driving question

· Design and execute the project

· Submission of final summative product

· Community presentation or call to action of the final product

· Project reflection

In this and subsequent blog posts, I will examine each milestone event in greater detail.

Project Kickoff

Like an anticipatory set or hook, the project kickoff sets the stage for upcoming learning activities by grabbing your students' attention. Ensure your project kickoff activity addresses the PBL driving question and generates excitement, curiosity, wonder, and a need to know about the topic. Additionally, the project kickoff should demonstrate to students that the topic they will be learning about is necessary and relevant to their lives. There are several ways to kick off a project, but research shows that student achievement increases when the project kickoff combines multimedia like audio and video (Brupbacher & Wilson, 2007). Teachers can also combine several approaches.

Images- Images can include photographs, paintings, illustrations, or editorial cartoons. Images are an excellent way to generate student interest and activate their prior knowledge of a topic. Teachers can show students images using technology such as projectors and smartboards. However, I have found that many students enjoy interacting with physical images because it helps create a tactile connection that projected images lack. Additionally, showing several related images simultaneously is beneficial because the teacher can circulate them around the room or create stations, sometimes referred to as a "gallery walk." I like to use provocative images in my project kickoffs as they generate an emotional response from students and spur conversation. However, it is crucial to keep students' developmental and maturity levels in mind when showing them challenging images. It is inappropriate to show students images that could trigger emotional or psychological trauma. With great satisfaction, I have used Jackdaw's primary source images and artifacts for years.

Video- Similar to images, showing students videos is a great way to engage them in the project. I like to use clips from documentary films, excerpts from interviews, news reports, movies, or any other video source that can hook students into the lesson. I have found video clips of approximately 3-5 minutes to be the optimum length. That is usually enough time to get the point across without losing students' attention. Like images, be mindful when selecting appropriate videos to show your students.

Audio- Presenting students with audio such as speeches, music, and interviews is an excellent way to hook students into the project. Audio helps to stimulate students' imagination and curiosity and is a perfect way to bring a topic to life. I have found it helpful to provide students with audio transcripts when available. An audio transcript may help students with unfamiliar vocabulary, help English language learners process the audio, and help all students comprehend audio that may be of poor quality due to age.

Experts-Invite, an expert to speak to your class in person or "virtually." Expertise can range widely from someone with advanced academic or professional degrees, such as university faculty, lawyers, and doctors, to someone with long experience in a particular field, such as a president of a non-profit. Solicit community groups and organizations for speakers or invite students' family members to speak to your class. Asking experts to talk to your students is an excellent way to learn about various careers and helps students connect to the community and life beyond the classroom while generating excitement for the project. Speakers could also be valuable resources for your students engaging in their projects.

Artifacts- Students of all ages are intrigued by interesting artifacts that they can see, hear, smell, and touch. The more obscure the item, the more fun students will have guessing what it is. Using artifacts in your project kickoff creates a "show and tell" ambiance that gets students excited to learn more about the topic. I like to peruse antique shops for interesting and unusual objects to share with my history students. But artifacts do not have to be antiques. Anything that ignites students' curiosity is a good choice.

Field trip- In-person or virtual field trips are an excellent way to begin a project. Fieldtrips help to create energy and excitement for the project. They provide students with a first-hand learning experience and create relevance to the project. They also give students opportunities for experiential learning that is almost impossible to recreate in the classroom. Additionally, research has shown field trips increase students' interest, knowledge, and motivation in the topic (Behrendt & Franklin, 2014).

It is essential that students actively participate and not just passively observe the kickoff event. A way to get every student personally involved is to assign a learning activity associated with the kickoff event. For example, activities could include:

· Creating a list of questions or observations.

· Writing a short reaction paper.

· Creating a KWL chart.

· Completing a mind map.

What I have learned: In 2014, my home state of Nevada celebrated its 150th anniversary of statehood. Nevada was "Battle Born" and became the 36th state on October 31st, 1864, during the American Civil War, despite no battles being fought here. Abraham Lincoln was President of the United States at that time. Many assume that Lincoln pushed for Nevada's statehood because he was interested in acquiring the rich silver deposits in the northern part of the state that had been recently discovered. In reality, Lincoln faced tough reelection that year, and he needed Nevada's electoral votes to secure reelection.

I created a PBL lesson called Nevada150 Past, Present, and Future to celebrate Nevada's sesquicentennial anniversary. I designed the project to teach my students about Nevada's rich history and to give them an opportunity to think about present challenges and future trends. They would do this by conducting research in response to the driving question, "What makes Nevada unique?" To kick off the project, I coordinated a launch event in which I invited various experts in Nevada history and other notable Nevadans to come to speak to my students. For example, I brought in a historian from the local college to talk about women's roles in shaping Nevada. In addition, I had a Lincoln interpreter discuss Nevada's statehood dressed in full Lincoln attire (the beard was real). I also invited local politicians to discuss current events and Nevada's political, social, and economic future. The kickoff event was held in our school's auditorium and had a fair-like feel as we brought in a local Civil War group to set up a simulated army camp where students could explore the artifacts and interact with the interpreters. The students had a fantastic time learning about Nevada, interacting with experts and notable Nevadans, and were excited to delve into the NV150 PBL.

Letter to Families Although PBL has been used in classrooms of all levels for a long time and continues to grow in popularity as more educators want to prepare their students for the modern world. Unfortunately, it is still not a common teaching practice in most classrooms. Because many families are unfamiliar with PBL, it is an excellent idea to let them know what their students will be doing and the unique demands placed on students engaged in PBL. A perfect way to do this is to send an explanation letter to each family. The letter should contain information such as the project overview and timeline, learning activities, group work expectations, assessment criteria, etc. Pblworks.org has created an excellent Template for Letter to Parents and is available for free download. If you have families that speak languages other than English at home, you may consider providing a translation using Google Translate.


Behrendt, M., & Franklin, T. (2014). A review of research on school field trips and their value in education. International Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 9(3), 235-245.

Brupbacher, L. & Wilson, D. (2007). Enhancing the Power of Anticipatory Sets Using Multimedia. In R. Carlsen, K. McFerrin, J. Price, R. Weber & D. Willis (Eds.), Proceedings of SITE 2007--Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (pp. 1922-1925). San Antonio, Texas, USA: Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE).

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