Getting Started on Your Project


Understand the indicators of engaged learning.
Understand the best use of technology.


To identify elements of a project
To locate and select appropriate educational standards
To brainstorm authentic problem or issue ideas
To find information and resources for individual project/unit choices
To write two project proposals that include the elements of a project


By this time you have looked at several engaged learning projects that demonstrate many of the indicators described by NCREL. We have grouped these indicators into six key elements: student roles, teacher roles, grouping, assessment, student task, and technology use.

Your authentic problems or issues should be for projects that you can use with your own "students." We want this to be something that is useful to you in your current job, rather than just an exercise. If you are a resource teacher (tech coordinator, science specialist, library staff, . . .) you can either create a project for the adult teachers you work with or partner with a classroom teacher. If you partner with a classroom teacher, please arrange to team-teach the project with your partner so that you will have first-hand experience facilitating an engaged learning project with students.

As you can see, three indicators of engaged learning are not listed separately in our list of elements. They are vision of learning, instructional model of learning, and learning context. These indicators are more often determined by the student roles, teacher roles, grouping, assessment, student task, and technology use. Through the careful design of these six elements, the other three indicators of engaged learning are developed simultaneously. We are not declaring them to be less important, but we have found that when all six elements have been developed thoroughly, these indicators of engaged learning have been addressed in the completed projects.

Juggling the project elements is the key to a successful project. Learning to use these elements to engage student learning is exciting for the student and teacher as well. Read below for a short description of these elements.

Objectives are the statements that describe what you want your students to know and be able to do at the end of the project. The objectives should be related to the content to be learned, the process for learning, and the product that they will create to demonstrate what they have learned.

Assessment measures what the students know and can do. Engaged learning requires content, process, and product; therefore all three need to be assessed. Specifically, the skills involved in the process of learning, researching, and problem solving are evaluated. Engaged learning needs to be assessed throughout the process because students are performing different tasks and displaying different skills at different times during the project. Assessment "of" learning is the final assessment at the end of the project. Assessment "for" learning is the assessment that is ongoing throughout the project to help you determine what support your students still need to be able to hit the target you have established. Examples of assessment "for" learning are journaling, mini conferences with students, observations, etc.

The student task is framed within a student scenario. It needs to be authentic, challenging, and multidisciplinary. It often requires problem-based learning and collaboration with peers or mentors. If the students have been told what to do or how to start, then the task is too small and too directed.

The role of the teacher is to facilitate and guide the learner rather than directly instruct the student. Sometimes the student and teacher are co-learners and co-investigators.

The student's role is to investigate the task, problem solve, reflect on what he has learned, and teach others when possible. He is exploring, directing his own learning, producing his own knowledge, and learning from others.

Engaged learning projects use technology in a real-life empowering way. Technology is not an add-on to these projects, but it is an integral component which allows students to solve tasks and refocus their learning. It is the resource that allows students and teachers to work outside the four classroom walls.

  • "Effectiveness is not a function of the technology, but rather of the learning environment and the capability to do things one could not do otherwise."
  • "Technology in support of outmoded educational systems is counterproductive."
  • "[The reliance on] standardized tests is ludicrous . . . Technology works in a school not because test scores increase, but because technology empowers new solutions."

*Taken from Plugging In

The students need to be grouped flexibly so that as learning tasks change, so can the groups. This flexible grouping enables students to have the best opportunity to focus on multiple and varied tasks in a self-selected manner.

You are probably including some of these elements currently in your instructional design. If you want more practice in identifying these elements, pick one of the projects below and identify each of the key elements we have described.

High-Energy High School Physics

How Do We Inherit Our Biological Characteristics?

Out of This World and into Our Classroom

Wetlands in Danger

The following activities are essential. Please have the participants work through these pages in a chat or face-to-face class to make sure that all participants have a deep understanding of the important elements needed in the proposal. Many times the participants think they understand engaged learning when they really don't. These activities will help them to understand the project proposal writing process and what makes a proposal a truly engaging online project which could not be implemented without the Internet.

Before you start to create your own project proposals, it will help to see some models of proposals and how they have been revised. We have included three pages that demonstrate the before, analysis, and after stages of a proposal. Two of the pages allow you to practice your skills of revising. A proposal is a process that requires revisions. When Shakespeare took our class, even he had to make revisions! "To be, or possibly be . . . that is the question."

Brainstorming Authentic Problems or Issues for Your Project

Now it is time to start thinking about your project/unit. You may think about a unit that you have always wanted to explore, providing it is appropriate for your class. It is appropriate if it matches the district goals and objectives and/or the state and national standards. Make sure you know why your authentic problem or issue will enrich your students' learning.

  • What do you want the students to know and be able to do by the time they complete the project/unit of study?
  • What will the students do to demonstrate that they have met the learning targets?
  • What authentic problem or issue would enrich your existing curriculum? (You do not have to re-invent the wheel or add additional curriculum.)
  • Why is the technology important to this unit? How does it help engage the learner?

Enough talk; let's get started!

Brainstorm a list of authentic problems or issues, which are a part of your existing curriculum, that would be possible choices for your project/unit. Please post this list as specified by your assignment page.

Participants may want to brainstorm with their teammates at school to get a list of possible authentic problems or issues. This brainstorming would be done before this class session. During this class/chat each participant needs to share his authentic tasks and the rest of the group needs to offer suggestions, comments, and ideas for further development. The participant will then take two of these authentic tasks and develop proposals for them that will be e-mailed to the facilitator for feedback and approval after the necessary revisions have been made.

Encourage students to post their brainstormed list of authentic task ideas. This list will be useful to you if their first two ideas don't work. You can look at their other ideas and suggest a more promising authentic task. The list will also be a good resource for others.

Find out if there are resources on the Internet to support your authentic problem or issue. Spend no more than one hour per problem. Remember these are just possible tasks to be used for your proposal. There will be time later to find more sites. WARNING: If after one hour you can find no appropriate or relevant sites, change your authentic task. The WEB might not be ready for your idea yet!

The reason we ask the participants to look for resources for several possible units is so that they will not become so wedded to a topic that they cannot part with it if does not lend itself to the project design. Sometimes appropriate resources are not available, technology may not enhance the project, or it may be difficult to engage the learner.

Writing Project Proposals

After searching, reflecting, and thinking about your possible choices, pick two of your ideas and write a proposal for each. You can copy and paste from this proposal template to get started. Submit them as indicated on your assignment page. The proposal should be no longer than a page. To view a sample proposal and its revision as well as facilitator comments, click here. Proposal Creation is a Process. Here is an organizer to use to help you write your proposals.

Grade Level:


Learner Outcomes: What do you want your students to know and be able to do after they have completed the project? Be sure to include objectives for content, process, and product.

Assessment: What will the students do at the end of the project to demonstrate their learning and "hit the target" you have set for them? (Assessment OF Learning)
How will you assess students throughout the project to determine if they are learning? What checkpoints have you built into your project? (Assessment FOR Learning)

Authentic Student Task: What problem or task will you create that will engage the students in the learning process?

Hook: How will you create a need for them to want to accomplish this task or problem?

Student-Directed Learning: How will you provide students with opportunities to direct their own learning?

Best Use of Technology: How could you use technology?

  • Collaboration with students/teachers in other regions
  • Opportunities to publish student work to a world-wide audience
  • Access to very current information and frequently changing information
  • Communication with mentors or experts
  • Remember the most dynamic projects use two-way communication.


The proposals need to be a sketch or outline of the project design, rather than a detailed, specific plan. One of the two ideas will usually stand out to the participant because it more effectively engages the learner with an authentic task and best use of technology. Keeping the proposal short in length helps to reduce the level of ownership. It is important for the participant not to become too wedded to a proposal before we are sure it can be engaging.

Look at the assignment page to determine the due date for this work.

Be sure to add the due date for this assignment to the assignment sheet.

What to submit: Your two proposals

Where to submit: Submit them as indicated on your assignment page.