This section provides starter questions that you can use to get students engaged in a PBL project, Questions Starters Stems are potential questions to start engaging students in problem based learning,  Questions starters are questions related that can help guide projects and project starters are examples of PBL's. The last section of the module you will find two full step by step PBL projects aligned with standards. 

Question Starter Stems:

Question stems can be used to engage students identifying their own projects, or to introduce a PBL's.

    • How  can ______ improve  _______?
    • How can ______ be applied to ______?
    • How can ______ change ______?
    • How would you design a new ______?
    • How does ______ affect ______?
    • What impact did/does ______ have on ______ ?
    • What makes a good/effective ______?
    • How do/does ______ impact my community?
    • What is the relationship between ______ and ______?
    • What would ______ be without ______?
    • If you were in charge of ______, what would you change?
    • How can you use ______ to inspire ______?
    • How might your community change if ______?

Question Starters:

    • How can we make our community sweeter?
    • How do stories from the past define who we are today?
    • What new monument or museum should be built in our city to enhance the lives of our citizens and visitors?
    • How can we create a more sustainable, efficient, healthy modern ecosystem?
    • How can we manage scarcity?
    • How can we create "farm to table" at our school during the winter months?
    • How can we build community?
    • How can we make getting around in the winter more safe and convenient?
    • I what ways can I change the injustices I witness?
    • What's the fastest and cheapest and healthiest way for me to get to school on time?

Project Starters:

Project #1:
 Here's an idea suitable for any school that is overdue for a makeover. The teacher behind this 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 rationale or justification for the change). I can also imagine students making prototypes in a makerspace or using an online tool like SketchUp to generate plans 

What can we do to help kids get outside more?

Project #2: 
This project challenges students to enhance the health of preschool or elementary kids by proposing creative ways to encourage more outdoor play. I can imagine how a strategy like design thinking would be useful for helping students understand the perspective of their intended audience (in this case, preschoolers and their teachers or daycare providers). 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 little guys and their caretakers outdoors.

Project #3: This project invites students to be innovators. 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. 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?

Project #4: Intended for middle school science students, this project focuses on an authentic need in mountainous regions. Students will apply their understanding of science and engineering to design a device that emergency responders can use to warm hypothermia victims. Products will need to be portable and suitable for covering large portions of a victim's body. Potential benefits could go well beyond academic understanding; these products could be lifesaving.

Project #5 Solving ‘screen time’ for yourself and family? This projects invites students to explore screen time for themselves, family, and friends. Student explore and apply their understanding of the how screen time impacts the brain as well as the psychological and social impacts of screen time. 

Full Problem Based Learning Examples:

Safe to Tell PSA: 6-8th grade (1-2 weeks)

Comprehensive Health Education Standard: 

Standard 3: Social and Emotional Wellness

6th grade: 3.1: Understand how to be mentally and emotionally healthy

7th grade: 3.1: Demonstrate effective communication skills to express thoughts and feelings appropriately

8th grade: 3.1: Access valid and reliable school and community resources to help with mental and emotional health concerns

Standard 4: Prevention and Risk Management

6th grade: 4.3: Demonstrate ways to advocate for a positive, respectful school and community environment that supports pro-social behavior

7th grade: 4.2: Demonstrate self-management skills to reduce physical and emotional violence and actively participate in violence prevention

8th grade: 4.5: Demonstrate ways to advocate for a positive, respectful school and community environment that supports pro-social behavior

Background: This unit will focus on students advocating for self and others through the understanding and use of the Safe2Tell program. Students will use the information they have learned to develop a public service campaign to inform others within their school community about when and how to use Safe2Tell as well as other community resources.

Vocabulary: advocacy, suicide, bullying, cyberbullying, drug abuse, binge drinking, cutting, depression, sexting, weapons, internet safety, sexual assault, choking game, smoking, huffing, trusted adult

Integration: This PBL is considered a cross-content focus with health education, language arts, and visual arts

Health Skills: Advocacy, Self-Management, Communication

Students Can: 

  • Demonstrate the ability to identify a parent, trusted adult, or appropriate legal authorities to whom school or community violence should be reported
  • Explain the causes, symptoms, and effects of stress, anxiety, sadness, and depression
  • Explain when it is necessary and how to seek help for mental and emotional health problems: such as anxiety, self-harm and suicidal ideations, and mood eating, and sleep disorders

Essential Questions: 

  • What are the signs and symptoms of a person who might be affected by stress, anxiety, sadness, or depression? 
  • Under what circumstances might you strongly encourage a friend to seek help for their problem? Should you ask a parent or trusted adult for advice if your friend refuses to get help?
  • How can I help my school community stay safe and violent free?


Two of the three leading causes of death for adolescents in the U.S. continues to be suicide and homicide. To combat these tragedies, Colorado developed a statewide anonymous reporting tool available 24-hours a day to accept reports whenever a Colorado youth or concerned adult perceived a threat to their safety or the safety of others. In order for the reporting tool to be effective, it is important for students to not only understand how to use the system but how to advocate for their fellow classmates who might be in crisis. Your goal is to develop a school-wide public service announcement (PSA) that explains when and how to use Safe2Tell.

Some format ideas include: 

Product Options
Written Products
Presentation Products Media & Tech Products

Awareness Campaign
Training Manual

Oral Defense
Live Newscast
Panel Discussion
Musical Piece or Dance  
Public Event
Sales Pitch

Audio Recording
Graphic Design
Photo Essay
Computer Program/App  
Digital Story/Comic

Constructed Products
Planning Products Other

Small Scale Model
Consumer Product
Museum Exhibit

Business Plan
Design for a poster

Public Audience:

The intended audience for this project should be fellow classmates and other 11-15 year olds.

Introductory Activity/Entry Event: 

The introductory event could use Health Kids Colorado Data on depression, suicide, and feeling hopeless of sad to begin the discussion. 

Develop Driving Questions: 

  • Explain to students that we, as a class, will explore safety and injury prevention in schools:
    • What is the most important safety need in our community?
    • How can we prevent injury?
    • What systems are in place to prevent injury in our school?

Need to Know List: In order to study all aspects of the issue, we will need to first develop a “need to know” list. A need to know list is an excellent tool to build buy-in for students. This is because the list will be the driver of what the class will learn. Most of what you plan will be determined by the development of the need to know list. However, if students don’t write down questions that are specific to what you need to learn about, it is completely acceptable to prompt them to think about certain learning objectives you would like them to learn about.

    • You can separate the list into two categories: 
      • Logistics- These are questions that are specific to requirements of the project. For example, “what is our timeline for completion?” or “Can we work in groups?”
      • Informational-These are questions that focus on the objective of the learning. For example, “What is safe to tell?” “When should you use safe to tell?” “What makes an effective PSA?”
 Project Introduction:

Introduce the project prompt and examples of student products they can develop. This might be a time to add additional questions to the driving question list.

Potential Activities

Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS) data dig. Students examine Healthy Kids Colorado Data to determine behavioral health concerns in the state and regions. 

Students explore common mental health conditions and the signs and symptoms

Independently researching Safe2Tell for the purpose of understanding the tool

What makes an effective PSA?

Example PSA 

Last modified: Tuesday, 12 January 2021, 3:04 PM