Grantee Corner  |  Project-Based Learning



Many Magnet Schools Assistance Program (MSAP) awardees use grant funds to integrate project-based learning (PBL) into the curriculum, thus making lessons hands-on and relevant to the real world. Here are examples of PBL in action from current awardees.

Wake County Public School System

Faculty at Green Leadership and World Languages Magnet Elementary in Raleigh, NC, have embraced PBL and are guiding their students through exciting adventures in learning. 

The Green Bean Coffee Shop is a business idea that sprouted from a PBL unit on economic exploration. Third-grade students at Green Magnet saw an opportunity to gain real-world business and leadership experience by opening a small business for a very captive and motivated clientele—the school faculty! The Green Bean, developed and operated by these third-grade students, makes and serves coffee three mornings a week to its enthusiastic and supportive customers. 

The Green Bean staff closely monitor profits and expenses. As a group, they graph and examine trends and always watch for opportunities to expand their business. Recent expansions include call-in orders, delivery, and additional tea and hot chocolate offerings. All Green Bean profits are donated to the Duke Children’s Cancer Center. 

Second-grade students at Green Magnet Elementary participated in an exciting PBL unit based on the adventures of Flat Stanley. As Flat Stanley journeyed from country to country, all the second graders followed him and researched the places he visited. Students then collaborated in groups to write and publish multicultural biographies based on Flat Stanley’s adventures. They invited community authors to attend their biography presentations, asking the authors to discuss their own work as well. The authors were overwhelmed by the student participation at the event and were excited to share all they learned from the students about Flat Stanley’s travels around the world. 

Richland School District Two

In 2013, the Columbia, SC, Full STEAM Ahead! continuum partnered with the Buck Institute. Staff received initial training, classroom coaching, and follow-through sustainability strategies to ensure that PBL would be implemented with fidelity. Over the course of 3 years, learning has transformed in these schools, and students are eager to share their engaging learning experiences.

At Killian Elementary and Longleaf Middle, students use the engineering mindset to manipulate robotics and participate in statewide robotics competitions. Teachers are embedding the engineering mindset in core content courses. One project involved the floods that occurred in South Carolina in October 2015. Students sought to determine why some local dams were breached while other dams were virtually unaffected. They researched the various materials used to construct the dams, then created their own “mini-dams.” Now, they are testing these dams and documenting outcomes.

At Westwood High, one STEAM focus has received national attention. Social studies teacher Ms. Plotner and her students wanted to take action against human trafficking.  After research, they chose to use Globalize 13. This service-learning curriculum was designed to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the constitutional amendment that ended legalized slavery; the curriculum also raises important questions about present-day slave labor and its contributions to products Americans use every day. The Richland County Council joined forces with Westwood High students to take action on human trafficking in the community. Councilman Jim Manning unveiled the newly formed Human Trafficking Coalition, which is actively investigating incidents of human trafficking in the local community. 

The Westwood arts department also engaged in the human trafficking and slavery theme. A group of the dancers performed “The Secret Room,” written by Westwood High students, for elementary school children across the district. At Chester Elementary School, the high school students introduced PBL lessons around this topic for the elementary students. Classes included theatre, African dance, visual art (creating "quilts" made with construction paper and using symbols for the Underground Railroad), and vocal music (learning spirituals and the Underground Railroad meanings of the words). 

Broward County Public Schools

The Sprouting STEM Museum Magnet (SSMM) Schools in Fort Lauderdale, FL, have developed high-quality PBL units aligned to state standards and school needs through two summers of professional development. 

MSAP grant funds afforded the SSMM schools a foundation for quality curriculum with the purchase of Engineering is Elementary, a curriculum developed at the Museum of Science in Boston. Projects begin with a multicultural text, then, over a 9-week period, build in the engineering design process of Ask-Imagine-Plan-Create-Improve. 

Students at Liberty Elementary are exposed to hands-on, real-world experiences through the application of STEM within their classrooms and hands-on labs with their coaches. At Royal Palm Elementary, second-grade students have experimented with designing a membrane for an artificial frog. They conducted multiple design trials to create a membrane that allowed only a certain amount of water to be absorbed.

A key component to the success of PBL in the classroom has been building partnerships to enhance and extend student and teacher learning. Florida Atlantic University graduate engineering students support PBL as teaching assistants by helping to prepare lessons and assist students. In addition, master gardeners guide students in plant life and care, and Florida Power and Light sponsors robotic clubs. 

Schools present their work at quarterly “Night at the Museum” events, with students acting as docents to share their work and findings. For example, at Atlantic West Elementary, the fourth-grade hall had a simulated tornado, while the Kindergarten hall had a giant mouth with a pink glow to give attendees the idea of walking inside a mouth. The museum nights have produced record-breaking numbers of parent and community participants.