A Useful List of Virtual Tools for the Essential Elements of PBL

Things are different now. The shift to online or e-learning has been dramatic and sometimes overwhelming for teachers, students, and parents. However, the necessity for the familiarity of online learning has become ever so apparent. Despite not being together in a single classroom, Project-Based Learning can still exist and even thrive while improving the technology literacy of students.

But where to begin and with what tools? How, as teachers, are you supposed to conduct a PBL project let alone plan one?

Fortunately, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to dive into the online educational tools universe and pluck out available tools that correspond to each Essential Element of Project-Based Learning.

Challenging Problem or Question

MyPBLWorks – A website dedicated to offering a wide-range of PBL resources. Create an account (for free) and begin the exploration of all things PBL. Great section of example challenging problems and questions.

Parlay Ideas – Parlay Ideas is a great source for entry events and prompts for students. A prompt or question is given and students can answer using the Parlay platform where peers can offer feedback and then ultimately lead to a live discussion. It offers a free trial for Certified Teachers for a full year.

Sustained Inquiry

Newsela – Newsela provides schools with up-to-date, accessible content that supports every learner in the classroom and at home. The website provides an expansive library of engaging, standards-aligned content to drive continued instruction stemming from the driving question or challenging problem.

Padlet – Padlet is a productivity software that can be used for school or business. Obviously in this case, you’d be using it for school purposes. With Padlet, students are able to create boards, documents, and webpages that they can contribute to. So when students have information to share among their group, Padlet is a great tool to use. It’s also free, which is really great.

Epic! – Instance access to thousands of books. Epic! is for students who are 12 years old and younger. In addition to books, there are learning videos and quizzes. It’s free for teachers and librarians too!


Nepris – Nepris is connecting industries to education. Their mission is “Making industry engagement part of the everyday classroom by empowering teachers to engage students in STEAM!” The connect students to industry professionals where students can ask questions, receive information, and have the authentic experience that PBL necessitates. Free trial is available for 30 days.

SketchUp – 3D modeling software meets drawing by hand. SketchUp is for those who want to present real visual ideas for their projects. Incredibly cool software and they offer a K-12 Education Grant for schools that qualify.

Student Voice & Choice

Seesaw – Seesaw is a student-driven digital portfolio. Essentially it is a platform for student engagement. Students can show their work in a variety of formats including PDFs, drawings, videos, and much more. This allows students to engage in their voice and choice for their PBL project – subject to teacher approval, of course. It’s free to sign up!

Canva – Canva is a great tool for presentations and graphics. Students can use Canva is a variety of ways to showcase what they want to present and how they would like to present it. Presentation? Sure. Infographic? Absolutely. They can even come up with their own Zoom backgrounds for their presentations. There are Pro and Enterprise solutions but for students, the free version is excellent.


Flipgrid – An excellent way for students to record their feedback on their own projects and their peers. Through short video recordings, Flipgrid offers a platform that makes the reflection aspect of

Kidsblog – Students can use Kidsblog to reflect on their PBL projects with a real audience. Through its safe student publishing standards such as teacher approval, students can publish and reflect on their work in a public manner showing what they have come up with. Free trial for 30 days.

Critique & Revision

PenPal Schools – PenPal School is a platform that connects students across 150 countries across the world. By connecting students to their peers around the world and discussing particular subjects, students get authentic constructive criticism and feedback. All topics are covered: from Earth Day to Fake News contests to World Religions.

Kaienza – Touted as the #1 feedback tool for Google Docs, Kaienza is fast and easy-to-use with neat features such as voice commenting, explainer videos, and automatic rubrics. Installation is free and we must say, the video commenting is a very cool feature.

Public Product

SoundTrap – From songs to podcasts, SoundTrap is excellent platform for students that are looking to make a public product in the realm of debates, PSA’s, or informative storytelling. Currently, they are offering an extended trial for students and teachers.

BookCreator – Book Creator is a simple tool for students and teachers alike creating digital books. As students finalize a public product, what better way than their personally created book, short story, or in-depth report. Even more so, students can let their creativity flow into poetry books, journals, and comic adventures. Pricing features are listed on the site but for groups creating their own products, it definitely looks worth it.

10 PBL Project Ideas That Will Win Over Your Classroom

Coming up with fresh ideas for projects isn’t easy. Sure, you can go back and reuse the ones from years prior but like any good bread, they eventually get stale. When using Project-Based Learning, it is incredibly important to get students excited about projects.

While adhering to curriculum and standards, these project ideas can be fitted or adapted to your classroom:

1. How can we make our school more energy efficient?

Here’s an idea that could generate measurable savings for your school while giving students the chance to apply their understanding of energy, math, chemistry, and psychology. Depending on the content focus and grade level, students could investigate everything from energy audits to alternative energy sources and human behavior change. As an extension, students might contribute their results to the Cool School Challenge.

2. How does what we buy affect workers and the environment?

This idea gives students the opportunity to trace the production of multiple products – from clothing to food to computer tablets to vehicles. They can decide to focus on a product they personally buy or that their family purchases. They can then come up with a framework of acceptability as far as workers’ wages, environmental impact, resources needed, and more and come up with a report based on the product and if it meets the criteria to be acceptable. The report could be published on the school’s website or on other community mediums.

3. How can we get kids to go outside more and get away from the TV?

This project challenges students in grades 5-8 to enhance the health of preschool kids and toddlers by coming up with creative ways to encourage more outdoor play. With input from preschool teachers, students can grasp the perspective of the teachers and their students. For final products, students might produce an online guide to local parks or lead play days in which they would demonstrate games or activities to get preschool kids and their caretakers outdoors.

4. How can we help Homeless People learn skills to become employed?

Students are seeing a number of homeless people in their town or city and there are only one or two shelters that help feed them and provide them a place to rest. However, how can they get the skills necessary to gain a job to provide sustainable income and get them off of the street? Students can interview homeless shelter employees, government officials, tertiary education professionals, and develop a plan that can be presented or submitted to local government or nonprofits that will help homeless individuals become employable.

5. Imagine we are urban planners, how can we reimagine empty lots as places of importance in our community?

This project invites students to be innovators and designers. Where do they see opportunities for local improvements? How can they use engineering principles to design and model improved purposes for empty lots or blighted spaces? Student investigations are likely to include surveys, interviews, prototyping, collaboration, and more as they take on this real-world challenge and share their results with local decision-makers and officials. The same project could incorporate social studies or economics by having students consider the stories behind specific places. What used to occupy now-vacant spaces? What changed? What was lost in the construction?

6. How can we help local tourism entrepreneurs market their services and products?

In this project, students take on the role of a local business owner or entrepreneur and assist in developing a marketing plan that will help attract more tourists to their stalls and shops. Students use math, geography, psychology, and critical thinking to analyze patterns, and produce a plan that can be presented to local business owners. For research, students can use surveys, collaboration, real-data, and more as they gather information to come up with their proposed marketing plan.

7. If we were ecologists, how would we solve the problem of an invasive species in our town?

This is a high school science project with a strong local focus. If your town or community is facing an invasive species issue; such as Carp, European Rabbits, Feral Pigs or even plants like kudzu vine or yellow starhistle, this is an excellent idea that will get your students involved in the local community and partner with local organizations. Students will research the issue and propose solutions to an expert panel. They will be expected to defend their solutions based on facts, data, and ethical decision-making, and appeal to stakeholders on all sides of this contentious issue.

8. Acting as Public Officials, how would we spend federal and state funds at a local level?

A project that encourages students to look at community issues and critically think about what challenges can be solved with available resources or what needs to be funded. Students can collaborate over specific topics and propose ideas and budgets for the funds allocated. The public product can be a mock debate or a quorum to have other students vote on a specific public policy.

9. How can we redesign a school space for efficiency and student friendliness?

Here’s an idea suitable for any school that is overdue for a makeover. The idea has built-in constraints to force creativity: proposals must make the building more efficient and student-friendly. Students will apply their understanding of math and art to generate scale drawings, which they’ll pitch to school administrators along with proposed budgets and a justification for the change. Students can also develop prototypes in a makerspace or using an online tool like SketchUp to generate plans.

10. Tackling a Community Health Issue: How can we inform and prevent community members from a specific disease or addiction?

Pending upon what age range, elementary through high school, your class can identify a preventable disease or addiction and plan a campaign to inform the community about the causes, effects, and treatments available. Wide-ranging ideas from preventing diabetes to treating opioid addictions have been used to create informational and participative campaigns. A question that must be asked prior is, are my students significantly interested in a disease or addiction that is relevant to their lives? If it is meaningful and pertinent to their own lives, they will be far more engaged in the project.

Interested in learning more about Project-Based Learning or becoming PBL-Certified? Contact Educators of America today for a free consultation on PBL Certification.