Project Based Learning: Engaging Learners with Diverse Resources

4. Content Knowledge– The teacher uses content area knowledge, learning standards, appropriate pedagogy and resources to design and deliver curricula and instruction to impact student learning.

4.3 Designing Coherent Instruction in the area of Learning Activities
All of the learning activities are suitable to students or to the instructional outcomes, and most represent significant cognitive challenge, with some differentiation for different groups of students.

There are many ways to interpret this program standard. By offering diverse activities that extend beyond the realm of the worksheet, a teacher is already striving to meet this standard. For example, when designing educational activities for upper elementary students, it is helpful to look into those students’ interests. Many students at this age level are highly involved in digital technology, utilizing resources such as smartphones, the web, social networking, and gaming. So when evaluating ways to engage those students, one may consider how elementary students utilize digital technology to engage in critical thinking. I’m going to briefly elaborate on a method to use a problem solving process to develop and expand students’ new knowledge. Having a museum design background, I have learned a great deal on a variety of topics; after a research phase I would then design exhibits in order to tell a story about that given subject matter. I found that I retained a great deal of information, many times on subjects I originally knew little about, by going through this process. Students could also benefit from communicating their learning through story telling; this can help students construct and apply new knowledge to a real world scenario. This social constructivist approach to instruction not only helps students explore new knowledge but also diversifies their learning and helps to engage them in their own interests.

Yang & Chang (2013) present a case study where students design a digital game utilizing a collaborative learning experience. As a result, their conclusions found that there were clear academic benefits to this type of activity. Students utilizing the DGA gaming software were showing increases in concentration and critical thinking skills compared to another group utilizing Flash software. Regardless of what software program students use, the concept of having students take their learning and create an experience allows them to meet Standard 4 as outlined by the 2007 ISTE National Educational Technology Standards (NETS•T) and Performance Indicators for Teachers (2008):


  1. Critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making

Students use critical thinking skills to plan and conduct research, manage projects, solve problems, and make informed decisions using appropriate digital tools and resources.
a. Identify and define authentic problems and significant questions for investigation
b. Plan and manage activities to develop a solution or complete a project
c. Collect and analyze data to identify solutions and/or make informed decisions
d. Use multiple processes and diverse perspectives to explore alternative solutions
(ISTE standards for students, 2007, p.1)

In other words, rather than have students regurgitate information that is fed to them through rigorous testing and worksheet activities, students can instead solve real-world problems by engaging with new information.

With upper elementary students, this concept could be simplified by presenting a scenario where they can design a board game (rather than a video game) as the gaming software may be too advanced for this age group. Students can interact with technology by designing their board games utilizing graphics software such as ArtRage by Ambient Design Ltd. This software program or any similar simple graphics program can be utilized in the classroom by having students draft and design concepts prior to printing and producing a final product.


Figure 1: Purchase options for ArtRage software

The steps of this educational process could be outlined as a mini unit. For example, students could design a game for a social studies assignment. Perhaps fourth grade students are learning about geography to meet the EALR 3 standard as depicted in Figure 2. As course material is taught, students are starting to understand “…the physical characteristics, cultural characteristics, and location of places, regions and spatial patterns on the Earth’s surface” (p. 42). During a series of lessons, students will then learn to construct maps of the Oregon Trail; they can be assigned to a group to create a board game further elaborating on their research. Students can design the game by meeting a set of guidelines devised by this standard, such as designing a game with the “…starting location, the destination, the route, tribes along the route, geographic features that affected the route, and a title, captions, [and] symbols that describe the movement of the settlers” (p. 42). Some of these steps could add obstacles for the game players. Perhaps illness, starvation, mountain ranges, financial problems, etc. could create obstacles along the route for game players.

Social Studies Standards Version 1.2, January 2013

Figure 2: EALR standard 3.1.1 (OSPI, 2013).

In addition, students could be assigned to design roles in each group. All students in each group would participate in a research phase. This research could then be gathered to come up with design concepts. Each group could go through a design meeting where they all draw “napkin sketches – commonly utilized in architectural and design practice” and vote on their favorite. Kids could actually draw on napkins to make this even more entertaining As the design teams narrow down their ideas, they can then draft them utilizing a software application. These computer drawings can then be printed and used to create their games. Groups could further engage by using markers, notecards, dice, game pieces, and so on to finalize their games. Each group could then present their design process to the rest of the class telling how they came to their final product. Lastly, all students should play the games!

This is just one example of a learning activity that can engage all students. By incorporating a project-based learning experience, students can be assigned to roles within a group, focusing on the strengths of individual group members. During the process, students may work together but also individually within their groups, depending on how the unit is designed. While mini lessons throughout the unit provide foundational knowledge, students will drive their own learning as they take this knowledge and create their board games. Utilizing digital technology, students can take this a step further utilizing a resource they commonly may use outside of school (and if they don’t, they’ll gain more experience). Furthermore, when presenting their design process, they may even have opportunities to utilize presentation software to do so.

Prior to all learning activities, the teacher should never assume that students know how to use these resources. All software, printers, and other resources available should be presented to students prior to allowing them to practice. With scaffolded lesson design, this could be an opportunity to see extensive creativity and problem solving in the classroom.


ISTE standards for students (2007). International Society for Technology Education. Retrieved from

Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). (January 2013). Washington state K-12 social studies learning standards (version 1.2). Olympia, Washington. Retrieved from

Yang, Y. C., & Chang, C. (2013). Empowering students through digital game authorship: Enhancing concentration, critical thinking, and academic achievement. Computers & Education, 68, 334-344. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2013.05.023


3 thoughts on “Project Based Learning: Engaging Learners with Diverse Resources

  1. Nice integration of the idea of gamification into education! I see this as a very fruitful way to get kids doing something different than worksheets. I also like the idea that the kids play each others’ games. This would allow for them to reflect on what aspects of their games are successful and which aspects need work. A great opportunity for problem solving in the creation and pilot phases of a product. And, as that language implies, its getting them ready for the workforce!


  2. Great point that using digital technology allows student to solve real-world problems by engaging with new information. Too many teachers still rely too heavily on worksheets. You also bring up a good point that teachers should never assume that students know how to use certain technology tools and that scaffolding their technology learning will help alleviate any potential issues.


  3. I like how you adapted the lesson to accommodate the age range of students you are working with! Having kids create a board game instead of a video game provides just the right support in learning!


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