Star Trek Project-Based Learning!

The fabulous 5th grade teachers, Erin Curtiss and Erin Hutchins, designed a science project-based learning (PBL) unit based on the beloved TV show, Star Trek.

Here is the driving question of the PBL unit:

How can you, as Starfleet Academy Cadets, arrange the items on the ship’s manifest for teleportation using the physical and chemical properties of matter, and knowledge of compounds and changes in matter?

The students will have to organize items into specific shipments based on physical or chemical properties. If the items are not placed in correct shipment containers, the teleportation of the items will not occur.

I decided to create a Google Slides template for the students to use to organize their items into correct shipments. Here are the slides in the template:

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The “Shipment” slides contain an image of a “teleport” room, a shape designated for the items, a text box for the name of the shipment, and a text box for the specific traits of the items.

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The image below shows you how to insert a shape.  Make sure to make the shape transparent.

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Go to View, then Animations, to add animations for transitions and object movements.

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Change the transition by clicking on Slide.

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For object animations, click on any object on a slide…

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… and you will be given the option to + Add animation.

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PBL Unit Overview (Mandarin, Technology, & Art Collaboration)


BIE visited our school for a PBL workshop. We learned how to create a PBL unit that incorporated multiple subjects. The following information describes the unit we developed.

General Info

  • Name of Project: Chinese Paper-Cutting
  • Subjects: Technology, Mandarin, Art
  • Grade level: 2nd grade

Driving Questions

Overall DQ:

  • How do we, as Chinese culture experts, convince 1st grade students to join the Chinese Paper-Cutting club?

Technology DQ:

  • How do we, as Chinese culture experts, use the similarities and differences of ancient Chinese paper-cutting to modern methods of paper-cutting.

Project Idea

Students will take on the role of Chinese culture experts, whose goal is to convince 1st grade students to join their Chinese Paper-Cutting club. They will be divided into groups based on their academic level or character traits. In Chinese class, students will need to research the history of the cultural tradition and the meaning behind the artistic expression. In technology class, students will compare and contrast the ancient Chinese method of paper-cutting to the modern technology-enhanced method of paper-cutting. They will learn how technology has transformed this specific tradition. Finally, in art class, students will learn the appropriate skills in creating their own paper-cutting works of art. The culminating product will be an online slide presentation that includes these components:

  • history of papercutting
  • meanings of different patterns
  • compare and contrast ancient and modern papercutting
  • examples of papercutting art pieces

Here is an example of what the product might look like:

Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 8.29.15 AM

After completing their online presentations, the students will present their work to their Chinese instructor. The instructor will use rubrics to provide students with feedback to improve their slides, as well as their presentation skills. After making their corrections, the students will present their product to a 1st grade class.

The students will be evaluated based on teamwork, critical thinking, and creativity.

Presentation Audience

The presentation audience will be the 1st grade students. They will observe the presentation and participate in a short paper-cutting activity. Based on the presentation, they will decide if they would like to join the Chinese paper-cutting club.

Entry Event

The Chinese instructor will introduce the unit by providing the students with this predicament:

“Okay class, I have a big problem. I am planning to start a Chinese Paper-Cutting club for 1st grade, but I am afraid that I will not have many students wanting to join. Because of paper-cutting is beautiful and decorative form of art, many different cultures have embraced it with their own styles. So I am asking you (2nd graders) to please help me share this amazing form of art with the 1st graders, to convince them to join my club! You will take on the role of Chinese culture experts and present a short demonstration to a 1st grade class. ”

Then the instructor would provide a presentation that included images and videos of beautiful elaborate paper-cutting examples to the students. The instructor would also provide them with physical examples to give them a better understanding of what tradition they will need to be an expert on.



  • Outline
  • Practice presentation
  • Concept map


  • Oral presentation
  • Online slide presentation

Reflection Method:

  • Focus groups

Use Tubric to Develop Driving Question for PBL Unit

A trainer from Buck Institute for Education visited our campus for a 3-day Project-Based Learning (PBL) workshop. An essential component of PBL is the driving question. A driving question helps your students focus the inquiry and guide them in the culminating challenge. provides you with a tool that helps you develop an effective driving question.

Steps in Creating Your Tubric

1. Print out the sheet from, laminate, and then cut out the pieces.


2. Use a cutting tool (X-Acto knife) to cut the dotted lines.


3. Roll up and staple the laminated paper. Slide the slips of paper into the slits you created with your knife.


Reinventing a Public High School with PBL (Edutopia)

Sammamish High School was given a federal grant to redesign their curriculum and school with project-based learning (PBL). The school plans to transition the whole school to a PBL curriculum by 2015. Edutopia created this video to document the school’s first year of PBL implementation. Here are some of the things Edutopia found out:

-All disciplines and grade levels are shifting from teacher-centered instruction to student-centered learning.

-There is a great focus in engaging students with authentic challenges. Students are learning academic content through the process of finding the solutions to authentic problems. The hands-on experiences also help students to retain information better.

-Students were motivated to created quality work when clients were involved.

-Teachers are required to attend a five-day professional development on PBL in the beginning of the year.

-ELLs can benefit from projects that require them to work in groups. These students have a hard time understanding concepts through teacher lectures.

Planning to create a PBL Instructional Unit? Try using this organizer

If you want to incorporate project-based learning into your unit, try using an organizer I have created using Google Documents: 

Project-Based Learning Instructional Unit Plan


The organizer includes a table of contents that will lead you to three different parts of the organizer: PBL Unit Preparation, Seven-Phase Model, and 7 Essentials Checklist. 

The information that the organizer contains is from the ASCD and Edutopia websites. Please click on the links to go to the source. 

PBL Unit Preparation


This portion of the organizer will help you focus on the components of PBL that will lead to a successful unit. 

Seven-Phase Model


This component describes the seven phases of a PBL instructional unit. 

7 Essentials Checklist


This list will help you to clearly see whether or not you included the 7 essentials of PBL.

Example of Project-Based Learning

What is Project-Based Learning?

I have transformed my learning environment by incorporating project-based learning (PBL) through the use of technology. Technology in the classroom has given my students the necessary tools to inquire complicated questions and solve rigorous challenges. Through PBL, my students have gained academic content knowledge and developed important 21st century skills, which includes information literacy, problem-solving, communication, and the use of digital media. The PBL process involves the introduction of a driving question, the culminating challenge, content research, student-generated products, and a summative assessment.

PBL entails student-centered activities that focus on authentic, real-world issues in the form of a driving question. This meaningful question is open-ended so that students can research and develop a solution through the utilization of technologies.

3rd Grade PBL Unit: Area and Perimeter

To review area and perimeter with my 3rd graders, I decided to have my students design a digital structure.   First, I presented students with this driving question, “What structures should architects design in a dense, highly populated city, where high energy consumption affects the environment negatively?” This was a meaningful and authentic question to the students because they live in Seoul, a city with 16,700 people per square kilometer. Their culminating challenge was to design a structure that would be superlative in a highly populated and high energy consuming city.


The technology-based research process in PBL benefits students in two different ways. First, students become subject matter “experts” by researching their respective topics. The 3rd grade students had to take on the role of architects with a specific design challenge. This challenge required students to understand architectural concepts that included sustainable building, micro-housing, and open-plan space. Students also needed to demonstrate basic skills in art and geometry. Second, students developed their information, communications, and technology (ICT) literacy. The “architects” visited relevant, educational websites to acquire the needed concepts and skills for their design solutions.  They completed a shared, digital graphic organizer to help them focus on crucial information.



As a result of their inquiry and research, students demonstrated their learning by creating a product that solves the driving question.  Technology has allowed my students to create products that are solutions to their challenges. The architects utilized web-based tools to create digital floor plans and 3D models of their structure that included features in sustainable building and micro-housing.  These products were used to measure the students’ proficiency in the content and skills.

Apple Technologies

Apple technologies have been a crucial part of transforming my classroom into a project-based learning environment.  In my class, we operate 24 Mac computers and 24 iPads.  These intuitive, user-friendly computers and their software makes it easier for the students to be engaged, actively participate in their own learning, inquire authentic problems, and create products that promote creativity and innovation.


The fourth grade students created an eBook using iBook Author to develop their writing strategies, specifically focusing on addressing one theme and organization structure, and locating relevant information for their writing. I challenged students to create a story about bullying so that they could read their eBooks to the kindergarten classes. This school-wide issue helped the students see how there is a connection between their academic work and their own real-life affairs. The students researched the topic of bullying, and found many solutions to what children can do when they encounter bullies. After writing their final draft, they typed out their stories into iBook Author. Their eBooks were then uploaded into the iPads that the fourth grade students used to read to the kindergartners. The iPad was the perfect device for the kindergartners because of its simple user interface. Overall, the fourth grade students were more motivated to create a quality product because these Apple technologies published their academic work electronically.


Another example of Apple technologies facilitating project-based learning was the Marketing Team project that provided students with this real-world problem:

Apple Inc. has discovered that a tech coordinator from a large district would like to purchase Apple devices for his schools planning to implement a 1:1 program. He has to choose between the Macbook Air and the iPad with retina display. As a result, Apple Inc. has sent their iPad marketing team and their Macbook Air marketing team to convince the tech coordinator to choose one of its products.

The purpose of this project was to develop my students’ 21st century skills that includes problem solving, communication and collaboration, creativity, and ICT literacy skills.The students were presented with the following question: “Which device, an iPad or Macbook Air, would be more beneficial to schools who plan to implement a 1:1 program?”

In order to answer the given question, each marketing team had to become subject matter experts of both devices. The teams had to find differences between the two devices, as well as discover the reasons why their device was better suited for an educational setting when compared to its counterpart. Each student took on the authentic role of a marketing team member as they created flyers/posters with Pages, a presentation using Keynote, and a features/specs data-comparison document using Numbers. These items were then given to our school’s technology coordinator to see which device would be best suited for his school. This subject-matter expert provided the teams with feedback, which was used as talking points in our classroom discussion. Apple technologies have allowed students to find solutions to complex questions, as well as create products that demonstrate their learning.

Success in Using Apple Technologies for PBL 

Student content mastery, the increase in student motivation and engagement, and the enhancement of student 21st century skills were a few of the successes I have found when students used Apple technologies in problem-based learning.

After students completed a culminating challenge, our class discussions, as well as student-reflection writing responses, consisted of improved vocabulary and a better understanding of the content. PBL has produced students who are active in their own learning with self-directed research. This process counters the current system of learning which provides students with information through rote memorization.

I also found that student engagement and motivation increased through the use of technology. Technology allows students to make their own decisions in choosing appropriate tools and resources, solving complex problems, and in managing their projects. Providing students with this freedom allows them to take control of their learning and become engaged in the learning process. Additionally, these Apple technologies help students showcase their products publicly.  The public audience could range from peers, parents, community members, and experts in the field.  For example, the marketing teams in my Research Skills unit were required to persuade our school’s tech coordinator to buy their product for a 1:1 computing program. Showcasing their work publicly made their schoolwork meaningful and prompted students to take ownership of their learning. Students developed intrinsic motivation to understand content and master skills, due to the professional nature of the academic tasks.


Another success I have found is the development of my students’ 21st century skills, including critical thinking, communication, creativity, and inquiry skills. These skills are important because they are the foundational skills of lifelong learners and productive workers. Implementing PBL with technology has required my students to problem-solve and make difficult decisions while they prepare and take control of their project activities. There were also growth in communication and collaboration skills during group projects. For example, role-playing as marketing team members required my students to become a cohesive unit that shared important information and ideas with one another. In doing so, students produced original products that expressed new ideas and thinking. Students were also successful in developing their research skills that involved gathering information, and using the information to answer complex questions. Apple technologies, especially the iPad’s educational apps and Mac’s Safari web browser, allowed students to engage in interactive resources that provided essential content.

Additionally, I have found that my students have gained a sound understanding of different technology concepts and systems by operating Apple technologies. The simple user interface of Apple programs removed many fears students had about technology. The technology knowledge that they gained from using Apple products was also transferred into other technologies I introduced in the classroom. Some students were even able to troubleshoot technology systems independently.