Project-Based Learning Through a Maker’s Lens

“A Maker is an individual who communicates, collaborates, tinkers, fixes, breaks, rebuilds, and constructs projects for the world around him or her. A Maker, re-cast into a classroom, has a name that we all love: a learner. A Maker, just like a true learner, values the process of making as much as the product.

“Making holds a number of opportunities and challenges for a teacher. Making, especially to educators and administrators unfamiliar with it, can seem to lack the academic rigor needed for a full-fledged place in an educational ecosystem. However, project-based learning has already created a framework for Making in the classroom. Let’s see how Making could work when placed inside a PBL curriculum unit.” — Patrick Waters


Shhh!!! The Students Are Learning

Facilitating Learning: Part 1

I was invited to be the speaker at the Arkansas Christian Educators Association Conference recently. Since I had more than 3 hours of time allotted, I was able to design a series of activities and discussions around the topics of facilitated learning and technology integration. I’m going to share some of the resources in a series of posts. This is the first entry in the series.

The information below is part of what I shared with the leaders of the various faculty groups participating in the conference ahead of time. This gave them a chance to consider some of the broad ideas prior to participating in the workshop. This was important as we ended the day by allowing attendees to breakout into their faculty groups. The goal was for the administrators to facilitate conversation about how the information presented during the day might fit into their schools, discuss some of the barriers and benefits, and to identify ways to support implementation. Flipping the instruction allowed the administrators to be exposed to the information ahead of time, reflect on it, and have the chance to better prepare to guide their faculty’s conversation.


Shhh!!! The Students Are Learning:
Being an Effective Classroom Facilitator


We often hear that teachers need to be facilitators of learning rather than deliverers of information. Through this workshop, we will begin to develop strategies for managing a classroom where students have a leading role in learning and the teacher becomes an engaged classroom coach. Strategies for designing and practical tips for implementing units will be shared.

Before You Begin

  • Please reflect on your experiences designing and implementing facilitated learning activities and units.
  • What worked well and what would you do differently next time?
  • What advice can you share with teachers preparing to facilitate learning?


This screencast will provide you with an overview of the big ideas that we will be discussing. We will dive much deeper during the workshops and explore application across grade levels and curricular areas, strategies for implementation, benefits and barriers, and more. This video is simply intended to provide you with an early frame of reference as you participate in the upcoming workshops and as you prepare to facilitate the afternoon discussion with your individual school or division.

Shhh!!! The Students Are Learning: Being an Effective Classroom Facilitator from Clif Mims on Vimeo.

Project-Based Learning Spotlight: PBL Success Start to Finish

This video from Edutopia spotlights Manor New Technology High School, “where an unwavering commitment to an effective school-wide project-based learning model keeps both students and teachers motivated and achieving their best” (Source). It is “a public high school just outside of Austin in Manor, Texas. It is an entirely project-based learning school that has consistently achieved outstanding results since opening. We followed a project there for three weeks to find out what makes their model so effective” (Source).

Introduction to Project-Based Learning

Speaking at the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) Annual Conference, Pat Bassett, NAIS President, highlighted Edutopia‘s project-based learning resources. The George Lucas Educational Foundation has touted PBL’s merits for many years. I decided to revisit the PBL section at Edutopia and thought I’d share this video. It provides a good introduction to project-based learning.

The following quote from Seymour Papert about PBL especially stood out to me. This sort of flies in the face of what we are currently seeing in many of the test-focused schools.

“The first thing you have to do is give up the idea of curriculum. Curriculum meaning you have to learn this on a given day. Replace it by a system where you learn this where you need it. So, that means you are going to put kids in a position where they’re going to use the knowledge that they get.

Paper Airplane World Record

Former Cal quarterback Joe Ayoob sets world distance record for throwing a paper airplane. I saw this during SportsCenter and I instantly started thinking about all the learning and fun that could be generated with this video clip. The STEM teacher in me just loves this sort of thing.


Educational Connections

Use friendly competition as a motivational strategy and challenge teams of learners to design the paper airplane that will travel the greatest distance. We are seeing greater emphasis placed on design and engineering in STEM areas on a number of fronts (Common Core Standards, recent grant RFPs, etc.). This would be a way to provide students with practical experience with design, project management, and more.

Consider cranking the discovery learning up a notch by providing non-traditional materials available, too. Will an airplane made of an entire sheet of newspaper travel a greater distance? Does the addition of paperclips to a plane’s design impact results?

Think way outside the box and challenge teams to work together using only non-verbal communication. This can really spice things up and promote creativity and higher-order thinking. My students always enjoy this and usually astound me with their creative communication strategies.

Let’s not overlook some of the more traditional connections. This can be an organic way to provide students with practice with measurement using both standard and non-standards units. This could be coupled with data collection, data anlaysis and the presentation of results through graphs and tables.

Those are just a few connections. Please share your ideas in the comments.