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Project Based Learning Science - Lesson Plans for PBL

Heidi Reina, M.S., Ed, is an educational technology integrator. She teaches coding to teens using project-based learning.

National Science Bowl

National Science Bowl

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.

Heads up!

Free registration is required to obtain project details at:

PBL Online

PBLU.org

ePals

Astronomy & Space Science PBL

Astronomy & Space Science PBL

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

Chemistry Lab

Chemistry Lab

Chemistry Projects

  • 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.
Public School Students Work on Ecology Project

Public School Students Work on Ecology Project

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.
ChickTech High School Engineering Project

ChickTech High School Engineering Project

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.
Life Sciences PBL

Life Sciences PBL

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
Physical Sciences PBL projects

Physical Sciences PBL projects

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
Physics PBL projects

Physics PBL projects

Image of Student Demonstrates Hovercraft at Engineering Challenge by US Army Corp of Engineers, under [Creative Commons 2.0] license, hosted on Flickr.

Physics Projects

  • 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
Technology PBL projects

Technology PBL projects

Image of students using ground tracking system, by U.S. Navy, Greg Vojtko [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Technology Projects

  • 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.

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.

Favorite PBL Sources Poll

Share your experience with Science-based PBL

Heidi Reina (author) from USA on October 05, 2016:

I've found the best management tool is to get students excited about perspective projects. l have often looked for projects by scouring the local news for vexing problems, such as water or air quality, or mold problems in our own school. If the kids play a part in selecting the project, that goes a long way for creating buy in.

Andrew Miller, an instructional coach at Shanghai American School writes an excellent blog post on the topic and I've used many of his ideas: http://www.edutopia.org/blog/20-tips-pbl-project-b... Hope this helps.

Kim@learninghypothesis.com on October 05, 2016:

This is an amazing resource article. I would love to know more about your classroom management tips for PBL. How do you get the students to buy into the process without being a drill sargent?

macohkathrine on June 26, 2014:

it will be helpful for the educators.

Great work!

EmmaGraceEllis LM on May 17, 2014:

BRILLIANT LENS!

my 4 primary school girls have developed amazingly well since PBL was introduced

Thanks

OUTFOXprevention1 on October 11, 2013:

Great lesson ideas! We can use some of the ideas for our germ lessons.

EzLoanLookUp LM on August 19, 2013:

I totally agree with this model of teaching. Great lens!