Defined Learning is a fantastic way to bring project-based learning to every grade level and subject area. Some teachers (and students) are great at coming up with meaningful project ideas that align with standards and learning objectives. Defined Learning makes using project-based content easy to bring into any subject. These projects are created around Understanding by Design (UbD) principles to emphasize STEM education and have tools to help students customize, evaluate, assess and create portfolios. Each project is organized around real-world examples making it relevant. With over 300 different performance tasks (and over 1200 products students could create), in my review of this site, I found Defined Learning easy to use.
In this blog post, I’ll show you how to get started with Defined Learning, share some example ideas for each subject, and give you an overview of how Defined Learning can bring you to PBL excellence in your classroom.
I believe Defined Learning solves several problems I’ve found in project-based learning:
- Finding projects that excite all of your students
- Creating content, rubrics, real-world relationships for projects (this is done for you)
- Managing projects
- Assembling portfolios related to student interests and work
- Making projects not just fun but meaningful and related to the content being learned in class to solidify learning standards.
This fantastic site helps you do all of these things. Let’s get started.
1 – Sign up for a free 60-day trial
My readers can go to https://definedlearning.com/coolcat and sign up for a free 60-day trial. I recommend doing this so you can follow along in your search.
2 – Start with a simple project for all of your students
Step 1: Search for a Project
Getting started with Defined Learning is simple. When you log in, you can search for a project by subject area to find your project. From there you will customize your project. I recommend starting with one project so that you can help students become familiar with the platform and so you can create checkpoints and help students create both an awesome and relatable project as well as have a quick win for your classroom in using project-based learning effectively.
So, first, select a project and we’ll customize it from there.
Step 2: Pick the type of project that will most benefit your objectives
As you look at the projects, you’ll see there are five types of projects:
- Performance Task Project – created around real-world scenarios in which students can apply core concepts being taught. These are generally cross-curricular in nature.
- Literacy Task Project – tasks that require reading, research, and writing literacies
- Constructed Response Project – nonfiction reading and writing experiences for grades K-6
- C3 Module Project – projects designed using the Inquiry Design Model (IDM) using the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards.
- Math Task Project – math task projects relating to math standards (grades 1 – 7)
Like most projects, performance tasks are related to multiple discipline areas. When you dig in and see how easy it is (and how powerful) you will be excited!
Each project will have Performance Tasks. These learning activities or assessments ask students to perform to demonstrate their knowledge and will produce a tangible product and/or performance that serves as evidence of learning. Defined learning has over 350 Performance Tasks themed around real-world careers.
3 – Companion Remote Learning Projects to Help Hybrid or Remote Students
Here’s a tip! As you’re working through product selection, make sure that you check “remote projects” to find projects that work best with students in a remote environment. Be sure to select “remote project” so that you’ll find a project with everything customized specifically for remote learning.
You’ll also notice that some projects have a face-to-face and a remote configuration. This will allow you to assign both projects and students will select the one that suits their current situation. This is so useful.
Additionally, you’ll find some projects in Spanish and this will be helpful as well.
4. Take a look at the Task Plan
For my first project, I’m working with 3D Printers and Innovation. In this task, my students will write a technical report for entrepreneurs interested in using 3D printers in manufacturing.
But the first thing I’ve been doing on all projects is to take a look at the task plan. The task plans show before you assign the project so you can ensure that you have a clear understanding of everything on a particular project.
Review the task plan and the timeframe.
Tip: Looking at the duration and time frame is especially important if you are planning to give students choices in choosing a project. While I recommend starting out with every student on the same project as you coach them in using the platform, the ideal project-based environment, in my opinion, has students selecting from an assortment of rich and diverse projects as unique and diverse as they are. I know a student has selected a great project when their face lights up with excitement.
After you have worked through a project, many projects can be worked in smaller groups or more independently.
5. Prepare Students ahead of time for revision and rework
First, I always prefer that my students do project-based work in class instead of at home (most of their parents have already completed their education and I want to focus on students.) However, because of the nature of many projects that have been created in prior classes, many students come to me thinking they will do the project and it is done.
In the “Gold Standard” project-based learning I pursue in my classroom, critique and revision is an essential stage of project-based learning. So, from the first day of introducing projects, I prepare my students that their projects are a process. We discuss first drafts and I relate it to writing my own books. In fact, I would never turn a first draft into a publisher — typically by the time I submit a book, I’m already to the fourth or fifth draft. Excellence in anything requires revision. For example in the music industry, it is said that “great songs are rarely written — they are rewritten” and likewise it is true with all learning. Rewriting and revision are part of excellence so that is what we do with our projects.
As can be seen in the task plan, revisions are part of the process, so make time in your schedule when you know feedback will be needed and prepare to give it in a timely manner.
6. Prepare to Celebrate Products
A product of a project gives you evidence of learning. In Defined Learning, each Performance Task has 4-6 products to choose from so the students have a choice. The library has over 2,000 individual products inside performance tasks.
Students need a genuine audience for their products which is why product presentations are so powerful. I typically like to schedule my class capstone projects at a time when administrators can watch the presentations and we can celebrate the learning.
Product display is also a great time to take pictures to share on social media and publicly celebrate learning with public displays and student-created bulletin boards. However you do it, your future projects will be more meaningful and have higher engagement if students see a habit of public product celebration. As I often say in my keynotes and speeches, “we need to throw away wastebasket work” – students need meaning in their projects!
7. Create a History of Learning Through a Portfolio
In my opinion, students should start portfolios at a young age and constantly add to their portfolio of work. Many colleges now request portfolios which students can turn in on websites and in other ways.
Defined Learning has a student portfolio for each student and lets them add their projects to the portfolio. (I would add if you have an external portfolio tool that at certain points in the year, students can download and pull the best items out of Defined Learning to showcase there as well.)
Portfolios and reflections of learning show a student who reflects on growth and learns how to learn and is a great way to celebrate learning.
8. Relate learning to the real world.
In research about rigorous project-based learning, it has been learned that when students “learn knowledge to tackle realistic problems as they would be solved in the real world.” This real-world connection is essential. Familiarize yourself with the introductory career video for each project so that you can relate their project to the real world.
Roleplay with students about their tasks and help them experience the project in a real-world way. Say “you are an engineer designing and testing model airplanes that you will present to a company interested in buying them” instead of “this project has you creating model airplanes to write a report.” Roleplay and real-world connections are essential and the language you use is important!
9. Respond to Student Reflections with Conversations
At the end of each project, students reflect on their learning. Looking at some sample questions below, you will see that many questions are related to collaboration and communication skills. While student reflections are helpful, sometimes, I find that as students are writing reflections that we can discuss each of these verbally with a “check out” appointment.
As students and I discuss challenges, I can provide ideas for improvement in their collaborative abilities. As their teacher, I’m looking for constructive ways for students to improve and to help students shift from blaming others (which we all tend to do) to a more productive personal-responsibility approach. Students (and all of us) need to change what we can (ourselves) and learn to take different approaches with others based on what we observe about their behavior. I’ve found personal (and sometimes private) conversations can help students improve in their collaborative ability and give their personal reflections wings.
Additionally, I like to keep these confidential and not share them with other students. I think it helps students know that their reflections will be kept private so they can authentically reflect.
10. All In, but Unique
It has often been said that projects should be the learning — like all of the courses of a meal — when in reality, many projects are done at the end of learning as the “dessert” or conclusion of something.
The best project-based learning has learning happen as part of the project, Defined Learning helps you do that. However, the challenge is that you want unique and different projects aligned to standards and the unique interests of students. Additionally, you want the projects to be easy to track and manage. Defined Learning gives you that world-class platform to make project-based learning happen in an effective and awesome way!
I highly recommend Defined Learning and hope you’ll get started with it today. Now is a great time to do that!
What Does the Research Say about Project-Based Learning?
The research on project-based learning is profound. Some of the highlights of well-implemented PBL includes:
- PBL “increases long-term retention of content”
- PBL “helps students perform as well as or better than traditional learners in high-stakes tests”
- PBL “improves problem-solving and collaboration skills”
- PBL “improves students’ attitudes towards learning”
- PBL “can provide an effective model for whole-school reform.”
- PBL “aligns well with the goals of preparing students for deeper learning, higher-level thinking skills, and intra/interpersonal skills.”
If you want to dig more into the research, the Edutopia article Project-Based Learning Research Review gives a fantastic insight into projects worth sharing.
In my long 20-year experience with the pursuit of excellent project-based learning, I believe Defined Learning gives every teacher the tools to make it happen in a way that is organized, high quality, and easy to use for students and teachers. You can bring project-based learning to your school. Start your 60-day free trial of Defined Learning today and begin your journey into excellent, easy-to-use PBL.
Never miss an episode
Get the 10-minute Teacher Show delivered to your inbox.