Project Based and Authentic Learning… Plus Ten Valuable PBL Resource Links


Welcome to a very special post that emphasizes authentic learning in the classroom. It is also filled with some amazing resources that will help you put some real in learning that will engage students. This is a guest post written by a very good friend of mine, Dayna Laur, who is a fellow National Faculty at the BUCK Institute (BIE).  I also encourage you to take a look at her book,  Authentic Learning Experiences: A Real-World Approach to Project Based Learning  , which will give you some ideas of bringing authentic learning in the classroom. First, please take a moment to subscribe to this blog by RSS or email and  join me on twitter at mjgormans .   Sign up and retweet…  and have a wonderful week! – Mike Gorman (21centuryedtech)

Booking Info – Are you looking for a practical and affordable professional development workshop for your school or conference?  I have traveled the country delivering PD relating to technology integration, PBL, STEM, Digital Literacy, and the 4 C’s. I have done 100′s of workshops and presentations.  Check out my Booking Page… Please contact me soon if you have an interest. It is not to early to think about planning PD for the next school year …. dates are  already beginning to fill!

Project Based and Authentic Learning… (Dayna Laur – @daylynn)  

As winter is finally winding down and I’m beginning to hear the birds chirping in the morning, I am conflicted with a sense of renewal and a sense of dread. The month of March signals the beginning of our state standardized tests here in Pennsylvania. Right on cue, the talk at home, for my fourth grade daughter, has shifted from how much she doesn’t particularly like school to how she must perform well on the PSSAs (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment). As a veteran public school teacher of fourteen years, it isn’t what I want to hear. I’ve, unfortunately, become accustomed to incessant worksheets that are stuffed into her backpack and take hours to complete during the evening. I’ve become almost immune to the endless writing of spelling words, in different colors, to fashion a variety of shapes. However, the near fear that has been placed in her to perform well on the standardized test, that takes place in two weeks, has pushed me to my limit. I long for a day when my daughter comes home, excited about the challenges she’s been tasked to solve, while at school. Alas, I don’t foresee this happening during her fourth grade year.

While I could debate the merits of standardized testing, I realize I’d be wasting my breath. Standardized testing isn’t going away in the foreseeable future. However, it is time that we begin developing our classroom to both empower our students and prepare them with the ability to think deeply and critically about significant content. Once this happens, the performance on the standardized tests will naturally increase as well.

In an effort to move away from mere rote memorization and standardized test preparation and toward increasing 21st century skills, many teachers have been embracing project-based learning in their classrooms. My good friend and colleague, Mike Gorman, has written many great posts about PBL on this blog. However, as Mike and I know all too well, many teachers use the framework of PBL to simply default back to having students create a research paper in a fancier format. Think about it. How many iMovie documentaries or Prezi presentations are completed by students, but in the end, don’t actually solve a problem? Moving away from these types of projects and toward designing Authentic Learning Experiencesfor our students will empower a generation of students who are producers of new information, rather than simply consumers of already known information.

To begin designing your own authentic learning experience for your students, just take a look around your school or community. What issues do you see or, better yet, what issues do your students see? This becomes your challenging investigation. While similar to the driving question in PBL, the challenging investigation, however, needs to be an actionable event that is linked to a community or career connection. Think, “How can we design…?” or “How can we decrease…?” For inspiration, take a look at this example of how disinterested students were empowered to rebuild their community. You can also check out this example of students using math, engineering, and even principles of art to invent, market, and sell an amazing new product.

As students become invested in completing the challenging investigation, it is necessary for them to analyze data, research opposing viewpoints, and collaborate with experts in the field in order to provide justification for their solution to the challenging investigation. Thus, math and statistics become a very real component of the authentic learning experience, in addition to a deep inquiry through the research and design process. TuvaLabs is a perfect online repository for building data literacy skills while empowering students to connect to local and global issues. provides students with a non-partisan approach to many issues that may be designed into an authentic learning experience.

As students move through the challenging investigation and gather evidence to justify their solution, we can already see an increase in student attention and empowerment. However, stopping short of the next element of authentic learning experiences, an outside audience, frequently occurs. In order to truly empower students to be change agents, problem solvers, designers, or contributors to their community, it is necessary to incorporate this component. Students need to know that they have a voice and have the ability to make a difference. The outside audience gives students this voice. Although, it is necessary to ensure that the outside audience is also an authentic audience. A roomful of parents may be a nice way to show off what students have learned, but rarely do parents connect to the presentation of learning as experts in the field. Thus, it is important to make a direct correlation with the end product and the audience for whom it is intended. Pitching an idea to the town council, writing and proposing legislation to a state representative, designing, building, and installing a structure are all ways in which an outside audience can come to life. Through this process, students are able to see their work become actualized or their ideas given meaning.

If you would like to read more about how to create authentic learning experiences for your students, you will find a more detailed description in my book, Authentic Learning Experiences: A Real-World Approach to Project Based Learning. It includes many examples, from all content areas and across all grade levels, which have been implemented by teachers from all over the country. There are also detailed descriptions of how technology was infused in each of the projects and ideas for generating your own authentic learning experiences. Many thanks to Mike, for asking me to be a guest blogger! Please check out these links below that will help you turn up real authentic learning. While tehy are not PBL projects, they just might open the door to a project that will bring real learning to your classroom.

…. Plus Ten Valuable PBL Resource Links
  • Kids are Heroes: – This organization shares humanitarian efforts of hundreds of kids from all over the world who are actively making this a better planet. Children are empowered to become compassionate leaders by engaging  in youth volunteerism.  You will discover kids drilling water wells in Africa, helping orphans in India and building homes in Haiti, recycling and cleaning up their neighborhoods, helping their local animal shelters and making life better for their neighbors.
  • Kids Making a Difference: –   Discover this non-profit organization formed by a group of youth volunteer animal enthusiasts, dedicated to the advancement of animal welfare. It has a mission, in partnership with committed adult volunteers,  to cultivate involved youth to their full potential, developing qualities of leadership, values, and social and environmental conscience while advancing animal welfare.
  • Kids Can Make A Difference: –  This is a program of iEARN (International Education and Resource Network). This is  the world’s largest non-profit global network that enables teachers and youth to use the Internet and other technologies to collaborate on projects that enhance learning and make a difference in our world.
  • One World Education: – It is time to discover this initiate that provides middle and high school Common Core literacy programs in a real world way.  It allows students to  publish essays on cultural and global issues, which promotes peer-to-peer learning, and builds college and career writing skills.
  • Real World Design Challenge: – The Real World Design Challenge (RWDC) is an annual competition that provides high school students the opportunity to work on real world engineering challenges in a team environment. Each year, student teams will be asked to address a challenge that confronts our nation’s leading industries.
  • Global School Net: – This organization supports 21st century, brain-friendly learning, and improves academic performance through content-driven collaboration. They engage educators and students in brain-friendly e-learning projects worldwide to develop science, math, literacy and communication skills, foster teamwork, civic responsibility and collaboration, encourage workforce preparedness and create multi-cultural understanding. It is their goal to prepare youth for full participation as productive and compassionate citizens in an increasing global economy.
  • Fantasy SCOTUS: – Take a look at the  Internet’s Premier Supreme Court Fantasy League. In its fifth season, over 20,000 attorneys, law students, and other avid Supreme Court followers made predictions about all cases that the Supreme Court decided.
  • Fact Check: – Brought to you by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit “consumer advocate” for voters. Its goal is to reduce the level of deception and confusion in U.S. politics. They monitor the factual accuracy of what is said by major U.S. political players in the form of TV ads, debates, speeches, interviews and news releases. It’s  goal is to apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding.
  • Innocentive: – InnoCentive is the global leader in crowdsourcing innovation problems to the world’s smartest people. In turn they compete to provide ideas and solutions to important business, social, policy, scientific, and technical challenges. Some high level problem solving involved.
  • Project Breaker: – Breaker’s mission is to drive social innovation and alternative learning by mobilizing interdisciplinary teams of young creative collaborators to help solve the world’s most pressing problems. They connect young people with global thought leaders and industry experts to answer challenges like literacy, urban agriculture, and technology for civic engagement.
Thanks for joining myself and Dayna Laur in a post that I believe can bring some real learning to any classroom. You also may check out a little more authenticity and PBL by reading Dayna’s book, Authentic Learning Experiences: A Real-World Approach to Project Based Learning.  In the coming weeks you will discover posts devoted to 21st century education including such topics as Flipped Classrooms, Project Based Learning, Assessing 21st century skills, technology integration, web resources, and digital literacy.  I enjoy learning from all of you. Also, remember to subscribe to this 21centuryedtech  Blog by RSS or email and follow me on twitter at mjgormans. I also appreciate your sharing of this post and any retweets.  Have a great week! – Mike Gorman (21centuryedtech)

Booking Info – Are you looking for a practical and affordable professional development workshop for your school or conference?  I have traveled the country delivering PD relating to technology integration, PBL, STEM, Digital Literacy, and the 4 C’s. I have done 100′s of workshops and presentations.  Check out my Booking Page… Those 2014 dates are going fast.


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6 responses to “Project Based and Authentic Learning… Plus Ten Valuable PBL Resource Links

  1. Courtney Fields

    Dayna, I enjoyed reading this post because the reality is students are bellyaching about going to school. It seems as if they lose all excitement about school after the third grade. I agree, it is time to use real world experiences to turn up real authentic learning. Bringing in a variety of listeners is a great idea. It encourages the students to provide their best work. When the students receive positive feedback it impels them to raise the bar. Thank you for sharing these great thoughts and ideas.

    • Courtney… Thank you for the very kind words and I agree that Dayna has really emphasized some ideas that must be incorporated to engage today’s learner. Please come back and thank you for sharing! …. Mike

  2. Pingback: Just a Few Minutes | The East Side Monday Focus

  3. Mallory Harris

    My name is Mallory Harris and I amen EDM310 student at the University of South Alabama. I enjoyed reading this post because you had very helpful information that I will be able to use in my future classroom. I appreciate the links because I will also be able to use those in order to help me succeed with my future students.

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