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:

Screen Shot 2013-10-22 at 8.01.51 AM

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.