Tips for Combining Project-Based and Service Learning

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >

Service learning is a great way to not only take meaningful action but also teach important content and curriculum objectives. It is also a chance to build empathy and compassion and have students learn from others outside of school. Project-based learning (PBL) matches well with service learning as both focus on authenticity and meaningful work. When we use service learning as a focus for PBL, we can ensure that the experience is highly effective and impacts learners and also the larger community.

Here are some tips for how to create a PBL project with a focus on service learning:

Assess Community Needs
Teachers and students can find local partnerships to help focus the service learning and project work. It’s useful to provide students with a question to answer, as a way of providing focus for the work. With a partnership, students can find ways to assess community needs. Students can decide what they want to learn and how they will use that information. This is similar to a “Need to Know” list often found in a PBL experience. They should also investigate what data or information already exists to help them and figure out how they will go about collecting more information. The are many opportunities here to address real needs, but students and local partnerships need to work together to find a focus.

Align Content and Skills
Of course, it is always important to align the project to overall outcomes. Teachers can look for appropriate learning targets and standards to address, or solicit these from students. What do they want to learn? As a teacher, you can help them navigate how their project outcomes will meet course outcomes. PBL and service learning also provide an opportunity to teach and assess success skills related to civic responsibility, collaboration, problem solving, empathy, and critical thinking.

Learn From Each Other
Service learning should be a reciprocal relationship where students are learning from their audience and the audience is learning from the students. PBL often does focus on a public audience and product, but here you might consider how students will learn from that audience as well. How will students listen? How will you scaffold listening strategies for students to build empathy and respect? How will students share learning that is reflective of deeply listening to the audience they are serving?

Reflect Often
Reflection is a key component of PBL, and can also help students create more effective service learning products. Have students reflect often—before, during, and after the project—on what they are learning in terms of content and also in terms of empathy, respect, service, civic duty, and more. Reflecting on these topics and skills can help students internalize their learning and allow students and teachers to slow down to ensure meaningful action and learning.

Create an Action Plan
In terms of management, PBL leverages student-centered tools so that students learn to manage themselves. Team working agreements, task lists, and more all help students own the process. Once needs, and ideas for addressing those needs, have been determined for the project, students and local partners can create an action plan, in which they determine small, manageable steps to take to ensure great learning and great service. This is also an opportunity to co-create benchmarks and formative assessments that matter.

Evaluate the Impact
Once action is taken, make sure you take time with students to evaluate the impact. While PBL often has a public product and audience, we don’t always take the time to see or measure the impact. With all the great work students are doing, they and their audience deserve to know the extent of the impact of that work. How much of a difference did they make? Even realizing that there wasn’t much of an impact will still be good learning for students and teachers. This step also provides another opportunity to listen and reflect.

Celebrate Success
Don’t forget to celebrate. Students will have had some impact on their community and on themselves. Carve out time to celebrate where they were before the project and how far they have come. Celebrations can be traditional, like a gathering or party, but they can also involve discussions, letter writing, and even screening photos and videos of work from the project.

Service learning and PBL are nothing new. Teachers and students have long done amazing projects that serve others. We should continue to push ourselves to make our projects more authentic and more impactful. How are you implementing projects that serve?

San Francisco Bat Kid: A Model PBL Project


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


We have all been inspired by the San Francisco Bat Kid! To fully grasp what happened in that city in mid-November, watch these videos. It isn’t every day that you see so many volunteers coming together to make a child’s wish come true. In truth, creating that entire scenario for the San Francisco Bat Kid was a model PBL project.

A team at Make-a-Wish Foundation was present with this project, which in turn facilitated a Need to Know:

How will we coordinate appropriate volunteers?
What scenarios can we create?
How can we craft a costume for the kid?

I’m sure these are only a few of the many questions that a team had to investigate to make the child’s wish come true. The team collaborated, and its members were given voice and choice on how to craft the day for Bat Kid. And wow, what a public audience! Countless YouTube views, webpage views, and retweets! Not to mention the people of San Francisco who showed up to cheer on Bat Kid! What can we learn from this incredible and inspirational project as we implement PBL projects in our classrooms?

Partner with Charity and Service Organizations
Many great teachers partner with local, national and international organizations that are working toward serving others in need. A PBL project can easily be designed to work with these organizations. If you are wondering how to do this, I encourage to take this simple step: just ask! Often we perceive walls that aren’t there. “That organization won’t have the time to work with me.” “I’ll never get through to the appropriate person.” Don’t let these sentiments get in the way. Send an email, call the phone number, and try to get in touch. The worst that could happen is someone saying “no,” but the best just might be an amazing PBL project that can make a world of difference, not only to whatever population the organization is serving, but also in the lives of your students.

Integrate Service Learning
There are actually specific components to service learning that you may or may not know about. Part of service learning often includes place-based learning, where students can see intersections of learning by doing authentic fieldwork and partnering with community stakeholders. In addition, service learning has a specific and targeted connection to class content. Both inform each other — the content is learning to support the service, and the service learning drives the learning content. Service learning can support and develop student empathy and promotes a social justice ethic. Extend the learning beyond the classroom with service learning.

Real World Products and Services
It’s easy to default to a fundraiser or volunteering to support an organization, and while those activities are certainly a good start, we should consider more possibilities. Ask service and charity organizations how students can actually create products that would be used. These products might create awareness about a cause or issue, target demographic groups whose involvement would be beneficial, or even express emotions from the point of view of those being served. Think outside the box as to what your students can create. Wouldn’t it be amazing if students helped design something as extensive as Bat Kid’s entire day?

Consider how we could enhance PBL when looking at #SFbatkid as a project model. We can create projects that have real-world impact, develop empathy and caring in our students, and demand collaboration beyond the physical classroom and school. Don’t let the classroom confine you. Dream big with your students! How will you take your PBL projects up a notch?

Project-Based Service Learning


This post originally appeared on The Whole Child blog, an ASCD initiative to call on educators, policymakers, business leaders, families, and community members to work together on a whole child approach to education. View Original >


Project-based learning (PBL) by nature lends itself to authenticity and real-world relevancy. All well-designed projects connect learning to an authentic task, but some can really run with it. This is where project-based service learning comes in, where PBL is used to not only create authenticity, but fulfill a community service and need.

I have a long term partnership with EagleRidge High School in Klamath Falls, Ore. PBL is becoming one of its core identities as the school moves forward. On a recent visit, teachers were collaborating to build a PBL project for a Community Studies course.

Project Rationale and Summary:

As they were coming to the close of the year, the team of teachers planning the project wanted to do something that would continue to build knowledge, but also give back to the community. Math teachers wanted students to feel confident in the skills they learned, English teachers wanted students to write, and the Community Studies teacher wanted the students out in the community. The school itself had always wanted a tutoring program, but no one had implemented one. The team decided, therefore, that they wanted to students to apply and work in a math tutoring program, in order to provide intervention and support mechanisms for future years. Students needed community service hours to graduate, and this could also fulfill that need, while fulfilling a need for the school community.

Culminating Products:

Although the major component of the project was the actual tutoring program itself, students were also required to create major writing components. All students were required to create a cover letter and resume in order to apply for the tutoring job—yes, all students. The team wanted students to realize that they ALL could be math tutors, reflecting a culture of excellence. The students also created sample lesson plans and teaching philosophies in order to show applicant reviewers that they would have the skills to teach, as well as the heart.

Learning Targets:

Although students were math tutors, they were not going be graded in math. This is because the learning of the math skills by the tutors had already been learned, and would not be driving the instruction. Instead the team decided to grade students on technical writing, as they wanted to improve writing scores. They wanted to focus on conventions and organization, which would be the students’ primary grade and apply to the current English course. In addition, students would be assessed on the 21st century skills articulated below. This grade would be part of the Community Studies course, but could easily fit into any course assessment.

21st Century Skills:

During the planning stages, the team identified aligned CTE standards to 21st century skills normally taught and assessed in other projects. Because they wanted to align this project to CTE standards, they wanted to make sure the connection was there and that they were justified in targeted the 21st century skills of communication and collaboration. The specific state standards are “demonstrate professional behavior and etiquette in all business management and administration teams, work units, departments and organizations in order to enhance the work environment” and “exhibit ethical and professional behavior.” Both are clearly aligned to the 21st century skill of collaboration and communication. During this project, students would have to remain professional as they taught, and collaborate with fellow tutors to meet student needs.

Next Steps:

I’m very excited to see the long term effects of this PBL Project. While the project itself where students are assessed may not occur next year, the teachers and students have built a structure that will last at the school and provide a real need for the community. I could see this spreading like wild-fire to other schools, where they start to see the success of the program as it becomes a part of the ongoing culture at EagleRidge High School. I am inspired by the drive of teachers to create projects that provide community service. I encourage all teachers to explore ways to meet community needs through PBL, no matter how small that impact might be. It builds relevancy for learning and builds a nurturing school culture.

Pin It on Pinterest