Project-Based Learning in science

Project-based learning (PBL) has been around for a long time.  David Rosen has mentioned this teaching/learning technique in a recent discussion thread.

In my experience, it can be daunting to introduce project-based learning into the instructional setting.  It takes time to write a good project, to evaluate it, and to devise an appropriate assessment.   Fortunately, there are many examples of successful projects which are freely available for adaptation to adult education.   One leader in the field is CIESE, the Center the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education.  For more than twenty years, in collaboration with Stevens Institute of Technology, CIESE has provided “multidisciplinary STEM curricula that educators throughout the world can use. These compelling lessons and projects promote problem-based learning, collaboration, higher order thinking skills, and critical analysis through the integration of science, technology, engineering, mathematics and other core subjects.”

CIESE sponsors materials and curricula for online collaborations across the United States, other countries and people in of all ages and educational levels.

Online Collaboration Curricula:

I'd like to encourage a small group of us to participate in one of these projects.  It would be a way for those of us who are new to project-based learning to get started, and for those experienced in PBL to increase expertise.  I suggest one that doesn't take a lot of time but is quite relevant to current issues on water availability, consumption patterns, drought, and climate changes.

 “Down the Drain:  How much water do you use?”

How much water does an individual use in a day, and how does that compare to usage by individuals in other parts of the world? 

The project is designed to answer these questions.  Participants measure their personal and household consumption, compile data, calculate measurements of mean/median, report data to the CIESE website, and compare personal usage to data from other parts of the world.  Lesson plans, templates, resources are all available.  CIESE sponsors the website at which the data are entered.  This is free; to post data, an instructor needs to register at the CIESE site.

How about it?  Are any of you interested in trying this out?  There are many school groups which are already participating in this project, which is on-going.  You can start on your own, but it might be great to do this together for purposes of discussion and evaluation.  Please take a look and indicate your interest (on this discussion thread) by October 24th.



OK, here is a question to get started as you are considering whether or not to join this project, "Down the Drain".  How would you present this problem to a group of learners:  we are going to collect data on water usage, and we'll use the gallon as a unit of measurement.  How "big" is a gallon?  How much liquid does a gallon container hold, in practical terms?  What are the equivalents: 1000 tears, 500 raindrops, ten cans of (Andy Warhol) soup?  

If you were going to do an exploration of this question, how would you do it?  Would you make it a hands-on project?  Would you use various props?  Videos? Paper/pencil?  How can you visualize a gallon?


I'd want equivalents in smaller units as well as bigger... a fish tank... I would hope there's something online that would simulate flow and filling of containers (if not, add it to my list of java activities to program...)

Hello, Susan,

I like your idea of using smaller units as well as bigger ones.  For the "Down the Drain" project, I was thinking that I'd try to visualize a gallon (and then larger/smaller units) by using a prop or measure from something quite familiar to me: a coffee mug.  I'd use my actual mug and an empty gallon container.  First, I'd guess how many mugs of coffee it would take to fill the gallon (and I'm very bad at estimating, but I'm guessing somewhere between 12-20 mugs of coffee).  Then I'd actually fill my mug with water and pour the water into the gallon container, repeating this step until the gallon is full.  (Then I'd use the water in my garden or to do the dishes...this project "Down the Drain" is all about learning how we use water, how usage in the US compares to other countries' use, and how to conserve water.)

This would be a lot more entertaining if I did it with a small group...we could each estimate how many mugs it will take to fill the container, and do some data analysis of our estimates.  We could also see what effect there might be when different people make measurements.  Finally, I could think about those grande cups of coffee sold at the local, that brings up a health-related issue.  Have I kept track of how much coffee I drink in a day?  Am I drinking too much?  And, general advice for healthy living includes drinking a certain amount of water each I doing that?  Also, of course, I could learn to do the formal mathematical equivalent exercise: cups, pints, quarts, gallons, etc.  (Better yet, how about a discussion of the beauty of the metric system? )

The PBL example in "Down the Drain" starts with a visualization exercise.  It then goes on to describe average water usage in daily activities, using the gallon as a standard.

What are ideas that some of the rest of you might have?  How about Susan's idea of using larger units?  And does anyone know of an online source that simulates water flow and the filling of containers?  We'd need that for those larger units!

Cheers, Susan