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PBL#2- Getting started on a project

In this blog post we are going to cover the first 3 steps to project based learning: the entry event, the driving question, and student need-to-knows. In case you missed the first part of this blog series- “What is PBL?” you can click here to go back and read it.
Before starting the project with your students, you should have mapped out what you want your students to learn about and create (the product). Suppose you are teaching about nutrition and macromolecules and you would like your students to create a recorded cooking show that walks you through a particular recipe. The next steps (and topic of this blog post) are planning how to introduce the project to your students.

1. The Entry Event
The entry event is how you will introduce the project to your students to get them engaged in the topic. When I was in college they taught us the term “anticipatory set” which is the same idea. Per my example: how will you get students excited about macromolecules and nutrition? Some things you could use as an entry event could include:

  • Show a video clip of a cooking show such as Alton Brown’s Good Eats or Iron Chef
  • Take students on a field trip to a local farm or restaurant
  • Bring in a chef as a guest speaker
  • Do a blind taste test experiment
  • Have students analyze food labels and see how far they traveled

Whatever you choose, it should get students excited and ready to dive in to the project.

2. The Driving Question
The driving question is the main question you want students to be able to answer by the end of the project. A good driving question is engaging, complex, requires critical thinking, and is not something students can just go Google the answer to. Make the wording of the question student friendly. You want the students to be excited about the question, so it doesn’t have to directly address the product. For the nutrition project, a good driving question might be “Are all foods created equal?” This question not only piques your interest, but is also broad enough it can be taken down multiple roads; not just nutritional value but also the carbon footprint of the ingredients, water usage, flavors, cultural significance, and more.

If you live in a state that uses NGSS standards, you are in luck. Since NGSS standards are performance based, they can easily be turned into a driving question. For example:

3. Need to Knows
Once you introduce the project to the students, the next step is to have them create a list of need-to-knows. This is a list of all the things students think they will need to know in order to answer the driving question and complete the project. For the nutrition project, need to knows might include:

  • What recipe should we use?
  • Where will the ingredients come from?
  • Will the recipe include all the food groups?
  • What are the food groups?

In the beginning, they might not have a lot to add to the list. But as the project progresses, refer back to the need to know lists, have students cross off questions they have answered, and add new questions as they arise. Use this question list to drive your instruction.


Are you interested in learning more about these first three steps? I have a PBL resource available in my TpT store that includes more details, project planning forms, over 40 possible student product options, and 100 possible driving questions that span all science disciplines. You can check it out HERE. 

Ready to learn about the next 3 steps of PBL? CLICK HERE to head over to the next blog post!

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Hi, I'm Becca!

I help busy science teachers get your prep back by providing you time saving lessons, labs, and resources.

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