Project Based Learning Science - Lesson Plans for PBL
Detailed Examples for K-12 Teachers
Putting together a PBL science plan can be enormously time consuming without excellent models. So here are hundreds of free detailed plans for projects for elementary, middle and high school students. The plans are sorted by discipline - astronomy and space, chemistry, engineering and architecture, physics, technology, and earth, life sciences, physical sciences, and... well, "other" for no clear fit. Most of the ones I've listed provide project overviews, guiding questions, procedures and activities, work product descriptions, grading rubrics, and questions for reflection.
The first PBL project I planned many years ago was the creation of a butterfly habitat in the school garden by my 3rd graders. I think the planning took more time than the project, and I didn't have a lot of resources to help guide me. Since then, I've been an avid collector of PBL plans.
I found far more free PBL resources than I ever anticipated, and hundreds of free science-based PBL projects are listed below. Many of these projects would also be considered problem based learning projects.
Free registration is required to obtain project details at:
Astronomy and Space Sciences Projects
- K-12 Projects | NASA
Several projects, competitions and activities for students at all grade levels. Although not as detailed as many of the PBL projects listed here, the range available include designing, building and conducting experiments in space sciences.
- Project Spectra! | U. of Colorado Boulder
For students in grades 6-12. In this NASA-approved projects, students learn about how light is used to explore our solar system. It culminates with their construction of a spectrometer to interpret actual data.
- NASA - Solar Energy for Space Exploration
For students in grades 6-12. Students propose and defend a design for a solar power system that will support 6 explorers on the moon or Mars. Leading up to that, they develop a solar power system for a home and the ISS.
Are you a PBL Beginner? - This book is tremendously helpful
This book was written by the editor at Buck institute for Education, the ground-breaking organization for helping schools implement project-based learning. If you're a middle or high school teacher just starting PBL, this book gives you the basics to helping you develop your units for success.
- Chemistry CASES Online | Emory U.
1 project for students in grades 6-8, 57 projects for students in grades 9-12. Among the projects are investigations of poisoning, designing a better cup to keep the heat of the coffee on the inside, designing a periodic table game, and investigating
- Drug Movie | High Tech High
For students in 10th grade. Students learn about prescriptive, over-the-counter, and illegal drugs, then create a 5-minute educational drug movie and accompanying materials.
Earth & Environmental Sciences
- Schoolyard Habitat Project | PBLU.org
For students in grades 3-5. Students research, design and build habitat in their schoolyard for insects and nesting birds. They install native plant species and remove invasive ones.
- Collaborative Earth & Environmental Projects | CIESE
5 projects for students, grades 4-12. Gather data on water usage, global temperatures, and local ecosystems. Measure the Earth's circumference or design an aquauponics system. Classes around the world collaborate with yours.
- Living in Earthquake Country | DLESE Teaching Boxes
For students in grades 6-12. Use what you learn about seismic waves and our ability to predict the likelihood and severity of earthquakes at specific locations to select the best place to live in the San Francisco Bay area to avoid an earthquake.
- Evidence for Plate Tectonics | DLESE Teaching Boxes
For students in grades 6-8. Students will use the knowledge they acquire about the movement of the earth's continents to defend Wegener's hypothesis that the continents had once been a single land mass that separated over time.
- Projects Space | iEARN
2 projects for students in grades 6-12. These are environmental projects done in collaboration with other classes worldwide.
Engineering and Architecture Projects
- Engineering Adventures | Engineering is Elementary
For students in grades K-5. There are 6 free detailed projects that include making a racing car from recycled materials, engineer aid drop packages for aid relief in other countries, design humane traps to catch toads, and design earthquake resistant
- Who Wants to be a Millionaire? | High Tech High
For 9th graders. Students use their math and physics skills to design an electrical product that turns on and off. They develop an engineering plan, financial plan, and marketing plan to launch their product.
- Collaborative Projects | CIESE
3 world-wide collaborative projects for students in grades 9-12. Reverse engineer a common product; integrate solar and LED technologies to develop lighting for developing countries; or design water purification systems for developing countries.
- The Commons Project | Virtual Schoolhouse
For students in grades 9-12. Students and community volunteers make over a neglected area of the school campus as a student commons. This multi-year project involves design proposals, cost estimates, fundraising, project scheduling, and construction.
- This New House | High Tech High
For 10th graders. Students study sustainable architecture and construct the various plans, a scale model, and a pamphlet explaining their design of a sustainable home.
- The Bridge Project | VirtualSchoolHouse.net
For students in grades 10-12. Students use principals of physics and math to research, test and build a bridge model.
Image by U.S. Navy, Greg Vojtko [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Life Sciences Projects - Projects in Anatomy, Biology, Animals, Plants
- Human Genetics Project | CIESE
For students in grades 6-12. Students determine if the most dominant trait is the most prevalent trait by surveying phenotypic traits of classmates, compiling data, and analyzing it with data from students around the world.
- Anatomy/Physiology CASES Online | Emory U.
14 projects for students in grades 9-12. Projects include topics on skin cancer, forensics, digestive ailments, corneal transplants, and impact of stress on the human body.
- San Diego Bay Field Guide | High Tech High
For students in grades 9-12. Incorporating biology, environment and math, high school students study the biogeography of the bay. They create a baseline inventory at several sites, with changes over time, and use this data to produce a field guide.
- A Study of Bones | Early Childhood Research and Practice
For students in grades K-1. Children learn about bone health, broken bones, and X-rays. They make models, draw bones, become bone detectives, investigate how to make bones stronger, and conduct surveys of classmates and teachers.
- Looking at the Trees Around Us | Early Childhood Research & Practice
For children in grades 1-3. Children examine and record observations on trees near their school. With what they've learned in the classroom and outdoors, they choose to represent the trees in the area visited by making a model, a game, a book, or a m
- Endangered Animals PBL Unit | Scholastic.com
For grades preK-K. Teacher Megan Power thoroughly documents this project, in which her children research endangered animals, create educational materials about them, decide which ones they want to help save, and raise money for the World Wildlife Fun
- Duke School | 1st Grade My Healthy Self Project
For 1st grade students. Children learn all the components that go into making ourselves healthy. Then they convert the classroom into a state-of-the-art wellness center for a day and conduct physicals, offer massages, aeroboics class, and counseling.
- KKits Bacteria | PBWorks
For 10th grade biology students. Culminating project is a 30-second public service announcement for the CDC on how to prevent the spread of infection disease, based on research on viruses and bacteria.
Image by US Marine Corps (unknown photographer), [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Physical Sciences Projects
- International Boiling Point Project | CIESE
For students in grades 6-12. Join students all over the world in boiling some water, recording the boiling point and factors in your location such as elevation, room temperature, heating device, and volume of water. Then analyze worldwide compiled
Image of Student Demonstrates Hovercraft at Engineering Challenge by US Army Corp of Engineers, under [Creative Commons 2.0] license, hosted on Flickr.
- Physics of Sailing - Sponsored by Oracle | Curriki
For students in grades 9-12. In this six-week project, students apply their knowledge of physics and Newton's Laws to design a sail and keel for a racing sailboat. End product is a digital model or poster.
- Rube Goldberg Project | Envision Schools
For students in grades 10-12. Students build and present a compllcated machine designed to perform a simple task.
- APlusPhysics Projects
6 projects for students in grades 9-12. This site provides free online physics courses, as well as a forum and projects that include designing a catapult, evaluating speaker designs, participating in physics podcasts, and designing a Rube-Goldberg m
Image of students using ground tracking system, by U.S. Navy, Greg Vojtko [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- Today's Machines | High Tech High
For 9th grade students. Take a present-day machine or invention and research a part of it that existed before 1400 C.E. and create a video documenting your findings.
- Molecules Matter | PBL Academy
For students in 7-8. Materials from workshops conducted at Indiana U. in nanoscience. Click "login as guest" button to see materials and project details.
Other Science Projects - for elementary, middle and high school
- Designing Effective Projects | Intel Education
45 projects for grades K-12 in all science disciplines. Many of the projects focus on problem-based learning, in addition to project-based.
- Felix Mystery | PB Works
For 7th grade students, who put the scientific method into practice by solving a mock crime. They collect evidence, make forensic examinations, interview local police and develop a theory of what happened to Felix.
Use Industry-Sponsored Competitions to Incorporate PBL in Your Classroom
See the Science Buddies Overview of the Top Science Competitions. These competitions are a great source of project ideas.