5 Fun and Immersive End of Year PBL Project Ideas

As the school year begins to wind down, teachers often look for projects that not only consolidate learning, but let students have a bit of fun at the same time. The end of the school year is a great time to give students a bit more flexibility while demonstrating their learning with a PBL project.

End of year PBL projects are a fun and immersive way to solidify skills like teamwork, creativity, problem-solving, and communication. They also allow students to show their progress in terms of their ability to support one another, take initiative, and cooperate with their peers.

The article below provides some fun and immersive PBL ideas for students in elementary and secondary school to engage in during all times of the year – but are a bit more well-suited to the end of the school year.

The Difference Between Inquiry and PBL

To start, it’s important to clarity the distinction between inquiry-based learning (IBL) and project-based learning (PBL). We’ve written an entire comprehensive guide that outlines the specific differences and teaching approaches used in both IBL and PBL. In short, inquiry-based learning is centred around an essential question and focuses more on the process of discovery. Project-based learning has an end goal of producing a useful, tangible product.

Furthermore, inquiry-based learning is a student-led process that begins with their own questions and wonderings. It is an approach to learning that emphasizes questions, ideas, and the natural curiosity of children. With inquiry-based learning, student questions are at the centre of their learning journey. On the other hand, project-based learning involves a longer-term approach to teaching and learning where students solve real-world problems. In this approach, the goal is for students to produce a tangible, meaningful product. A great resource is Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy’s book, “Project Based Learning: Real Questions. Real Answers” to understand the ties between PBL and inquiry, and is handy to refer back to when planning PBL projects in the classroom.

PBL Project Idea #1: Revitalizing the school playground

Envisioning a different school playground is something a lot of students are interested in. I’m not sure whether it’s the idea of rearranging things to see how they’d look, or knowing that there are endless ways in which a space could be completely revitalized that’s so appealing to students. Regardless, revitalizing an existing space is a fun and imaginative PBL project idea for kids of any age.

Developing the criteria

While designing a park can be fun, students also need to meet a certain criteria in order for the park to be accessible to everyone. Prior to students rushing into their ideas, consider creating a success criteria with them that outlines the non-negotiables that everyone should strive to include. This doesn’t mean their parks all have to be the same, but that they should include the same level of accessibility. Some considerations include:

  • Providing a safe and welcoming environment: This can include proper lighting, safety and security measures, murals, etc..
  • Cultural sensitivity: Encourage students to think about the design of the space. What symbols or decorations might be perceived as exclusionary or offensive to some groups? How can you create a park that is free from those things?
  • Universal design: Thought should be given to designs that accommodate individuals with disabilities. This can include features like ramps, wider doorways, audiovisual aids, and other accessibility features.
  • Diverse representation: Explain to students that the design and management of their parks or spaces should represent the needs and desires of the community. Input from people of all backgrounds, ages, abilities, and cultures is important.

Discussing inclusive language is helpful here. Below are a few terms to get students familiar with the appropriate vocabulary:

Once students have agreed to a success criteria, it’s helpful to give them a blueprint. For example, sketching out a rough outline of the space and making some photocopies for students to work with. Alternatively, this can be done in groups on larger sheets of paper to minimize waste. Encourage students to think about space limitations, safety, and fun. High-quality graphing paper ($8 on Amazon) is useful here to help students apply concepts like measurement to their ideas.

Addressing challenges

If students are working in groups, they might encounter challenges such as conflicting design preferences or disagreements over space allocation. Acknowledging students’ emotions and facilitating group dialogue is often needed to keep students on track and working cooperatively. Remind students that the end product is a redesigned park, and the purpose is for it to serve others. The goal is not to have the “best project” or to “get the highest mark”, but rather to apply their ideas in a constructive and meaningful way. If you’re struggling to manage group conflict, we’ve written an in-depth article outlining some Strategies for Managing Conflict in Inquiry Learning that might be helpful.

Construction and completion

Once students have finalized their designs, they can work on gathering materials and bringing their visions to life. There’s a lot of flexibility in this stage – some students might like to use a computer program to showcase their designs, while others might want to build a scale model. Whichever route students take, encourage them to apply mathematical thinking. For example, measuring the perimeter and area of the playground, calculating distances, and other considerations. Consider using some math-based inquiry questions to prompt students to use mathematical thinking – we have a set of 50 questions to use that can be downloaded as a PDF here.

As the project nears completion, students should be encouraged to reflect on their journey and the skills they’ve applied. Peer feedback is important as it helps students learn the skill of receiving feedback and considering different viewpoints. A gallery walk to showcase their designs is a good way to elicit this feedback. It also gives students a chance to practise their presentation and communication skills.

PBL Project Idea #2: Stop-motion animation

This project has been a huge hit in years past. Students love to put their stories in motion and plan every step of their animations. It’s a great project for a few key reasons:

  • It encourages students to break their task into steps and lay the foundation first before diving in
  • Stop-motion is a great example of a low-floor, high-ceiling activity where students of all abilities can access it with room for challenge and extension
  • It is a great way for students to develop important soft skills
  • It teaches students about the film-making process and how it works from a creative point of view
  • Stop-motion offers students autonomy, creativity, and ownership over their product 

Getting started

Before diving in, students have to understand that the process is split into parts; they can’t just start making characters and props without an idea or story in place. The process begins with brainstorming and storyboarding. In this stage, students decide what they want their story to revolve around – for example, a social justice issue, a special mission, a theme, or a particular moral or lesson. To make things a bit easier for students, explain that their finished product will be between 1-3 minutes long, which works out to approximately 100-300 individual photos. This helps students structure their work and provides them with parameters so they don’t feel like they’re floundering with choice and infinite possibilities.

I find it helpful for students to elicit feedback from their peers. This helps them hear their classmates’ suggestions and potentially partner up with other students who have a similar idea. Students are welcome to work in small groups or pairs for this project. Once they have decided on their idea, they begin figuring out their characters, settings, and props. Be sure to spend 1:1 time with students to help them flesh out their ideas and make them realistic in terms of how they would translate into a stop-motion animation. For example, they need to figure out:

  • What the issues or problems would be
  • How many characters the story would need
  • The sequence of events
  • How the problem would be resolved

I’ve used this storyboard template in the past as it’s clear, simple, and easy to fill in.

Getting creative

The next step is all about designing the props, characters, and settings. It’s helpful for students to write a list of things they need so they know how much material they require. Here is an example of how this process looks on paper:

If students are struggling with what materials they might need or how their ideas will come together, consider spending some time watching behind the scenes footage of popular stop-motion movies. My students loved this clip of “the making of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’” to see the effort it took to create and film the movie. Another great clip is this LEGO stop-motion animation of the song “This is Halloween”.

Another great suggestion is for students to use recycled materials to create sets for their animations. In this video, students can see how easy it is to paint a cardboard box to create an outdoor setting.

Scriptwriting and filming

Scriptwriting is a step that students need to collaborate on. It’s important for them to move their characters around and use their storyboards to envision how the characters will move and how the events of their stories will occur. For example, how will each scene begin and end? When will the characters begin speaking? Who will voice each character?

Once these decisions have been made, and students have practiced their movements and scripts, students can begin animating their scenes. This involves moving the characters and props incrementally and capturing each frame using a camera, iPad, or smartphone. Students can use software or apps specifically designed for stop-motion animation to streamline the process. This stage required a lot of patience, cooperation, and attention to detail. Investing in an inexpensive tripod (this one on Amazon is $15) or overhead camera mount (around $25) is helpful. This ensures that the images are clear, well-lit, and stable.

Voiceovers, music, and editing

By the end of filming, there are a lot of images to sort through. It will take quite some time to help students sort through their images, discard the ones they don’t want, and re-record any scenes that needed fixing. Once the images are set, students can begin editing them, moving their order around (if needed), and start recording their voice overs. In the past, this is something I’ve helped students with, as they often need to re-do their lines due to class interruptions, background noise, or some other reason. It’s often a lot faster if I’m pressing the record and keep/discard button. Once the voices are roughly placed over the correct parts of the video, encourage students to discuss sound effects and music choices.Talk about what sound effects would make sense in different scenes, and what songs would accompany the tone of the video the best.

The final step is editing, and it’s up to you whether this is entirely the students’ job, or requires some input from the teacher. I like to give older students more freedom and choice as to what sounds they want to include, where to source them, and how to integrate them (as long as they’re appropriate). Younger students often require a bit more help in determining the best sounds or songs to accompany their stories. This stage allows students to develop digital literacy skills as they learn to navigate editing software and make creative decisions to enhance their animation. For more details on the entire process, check out our article that provides a lot more insight, along with images and videos to share with students. 

Sharing the animations

A great way to share student’s animations is during an end-of-year assembly, celebration, graduation, or other whole-school event. Allowing students to show off their hard work and creativity boosts their confidence and showcases a range of skills such as collaboration, problem-solving, imagination, and perseverance. If that’s not possible, consider a viewing party in your classroom and have students give meaningful and kind feedback on each other’s videos.

Stop-motion animations are a super fun and creative end of year project that students will remember for years to come. Be sure to save their animations as an MP4 file or share on a classroom Youtube channel so that friends, parents, and family members can watch them at any time. If you’re interested, you can find some examples of student-made stop-motion animation videos by checking out our Youtube channel!

PBL Project Idea #3: Create a pop-up ice cream stall

One thing I’ve noticed in my 11+ years of experience is that kids have an insatiable entrepreneurial spirit. Many students have expressed a desire to open their own store – whether it’s to sell candy, video games, books, or snacks. They love the idea of being in charge of something that they own or control, which probably stems from their innate desire to role-play.

Presenting the idea of opening an ice cream shop (or sorbet, gelato, whatever) is a great way to let students apply a variety of soft skills while being creative and imaginative.

Photo by Courtney Cook on Unsplash

This end of year project is fun not only because it’s a topic students enjoy, but it also allows them to apply a variety of skills from different subjects. For example:

  • Students require math skills to create recipes and scale ingredients. They need to know about ratios and proportions to adjust batch sizes, calculate costs and pricing, and manage inventory
  • During the planning stage, students need to have a basic understanding of marketing – including skills in advertising, market research, supply and demand, and budgeting. This of course depends on the ages of your students, but the basic principles still apply to some degree
  • Applying visual art skills is a huge component of creating an ice cream shop. Students need to consider the shop’s branding, signage, and decor. This requires the use of creativity and design, and calls for the consideration of things like colour, layout, and appeal.
  • If you decide to have your students create ice cream flavours (which would be a fun addition to this project), they will need some science skills. This includes knowledge of freezing points, emulsification, and the role of ingredients like sugar and fat in achieving the desired texture and consistency. 

Determining the process

This project can go in a few directions, depending on your class size and the time you have available, as well as your resources and budget:

1. Individual project: In this case, students design hypothetical menus and sketch out their ice cream shop. Once they’ve done this, they can design a mini scale model to show the colours, design, and branding of their ice cream shop. This route is not conducive to ice cream making, as it would require a lot of money, ingredients, and time (but is an option if you have all of those things, enrol in a local workshop, or solicit donations!)

2. Partner/group project: With this scenario, students work in pairs or small groups (depending on your class size) to design a small menu and sketch out their ice cream shop. As with the individual project, students can make a scale model of their ice cream shop, or, if the groups are large enough, each group can build a life-size ice cream stall (similar to a lemonade stand) and role-play with their classmates. Ice cream making can be a part of this scenario if time and money permit.

3. Whole-class project: This is the route that is most conducive to giving students the “real experience”. In this scenario, students split into teams (with guidance and input from the teacher) based on their strengths – for example, students who love being creative and artistic on one team, students who enjoy figuring out the math and profitability of a business on another, etc. From there, they work on a part of the project that aligns with their strengths, coming together to share their work at a set time.

A breakdown of how this might work can be seen below:

In this scenario, some students might be the ones to create the ice cream flavours, while the rest of the class samples them and gives their feedback. This is a fun project idea to do at the end of the year and preferable during some kind of assembly, celebration, graduation, or other fun school event.

As the day approaches, students can come together to assist different groups in putting the final touches on their ice cream stall. They can practise their customer service skills through role-play, decorate the front of the stall, and design packaging. These disposable paper cups are great for creating unique designs and are eco-friendly. This project is super fun and shows off a multitude of academic and soft skills, highlighting each student’s individual talents and strengths.

PBL Project Idea #4: Create your own theme park

This is such a fun idea that gets kids excited about building. In the past, I’ve guided students through the process of sketching rides, figuring out how they work, and determining the best materials to use to create models of them. In the article “How to Build Amazing Models Using Project-Based Learning”, I chronicled the process step-by-step. This end of year PBL project requires students to work in groups to envision a theme park with a clear layout and a set number of rides.

This project allows students to apply their learning from a variety of subjects:

  • Math: Students demonstrate an understanding of perimeter, area, and measurement
  • Science: When designing rides, students consider things like forces, motion, and maintaining a balance between construction and preservation of the local environment
  • Art/Language: If students create promotional material, they will need to apply their understanding of visual design and persuasive writing

In their groups, students first decide on a theme to tie their park together. For example, will their theme park be underwater-themed, space-themed, or based on a favourite book? Brainstorming ideas as a class is a good way to get students thinking about their themes. Once they’ve narrowed down a few choices that everyone can agree on, they vote on their final choice and come up with a catchy name for their park.

Next, students use graph paper or a large sheet of paper to design their park layout. It’d be a good idea to come up with a list of “mandatory”, “good to have”, and “optional” features.

Some ideas for features are below:

Students will also need to decide which rides will be included, considering age groups and thrill levels. For example, if they’re creating an underwater theme park for toddlers, consider what rides fit in with the theme, but are appropriate for that age level.

Discussing scientific principles

As students come up with ride ideas for their theme park, there may be a few that are not suitable. When this happens, instead of telling them “no, that won’t work”, consider asking them probing questions. For example, “Why might this ride be suitable for an older person – like a teenager or adult?” Let them consider why a ride may not be suitable. They might decide that their ride has too many sharp turns and twists and might scare a young child.

When this happens, consider using this as an opportunity to provide a mini lesson on the impact of forces. Consult the Amusement Park Physics Glossary to help explain why some rides might not be suitable for certain groups of people due to scientific principles such as centripetal force, momentum, and weightlessness. Other great physics resources include Science Tools – Amusement Park Rides and Physics (simpler version) or the Physics Classroom’s “Roller Coasters and Amusement Park Physics” lesson (geared towards secondary-aged students).

Depending on the ages of your students, challenge them to calculate ride speeds, ride lengths, average speed, or G-force. Using these metrics to evaluate rides, similar to the game Roller Coaster Tycoon, is a fun way to apply these skills.

PBL Project Idea #5: Giving toys a second life

Photo by Zeynep Sümer on Unsplash

As the school year comes to a close, students get excited about not only summer holidays, but about going into the next grade. With this comes a slow realization that some of their hobbies and interests might change. For some students, they realize that they are beginning to outgrow old hobbies and are starting to take an interest in new ones. Although this doesn’t always happen to every child or in each grade, it can be a fun idea to think about how to repurpose old toys and do something positive and meaningful with them.

Repurposing old toys can also be a fun way to use old things in a new way. For instance, when children are presented with the challenge of transforming old toys into something new, they are encouraged to think outside the box, problem solve, and innovate. This process stimulates their creativity and empowers them to see possibilities where others might only see discarded objects. Through the process of repurposing, students learn that they don’t always need new toys to have fun.

Connections to sustainability

Encouraging students to repurpose their old toys not only kick-starts their creativity but it also fosters a mindset of sustainability and environmental consciousness from a young age. For instance, it helps children learn the importance of waste reduction. By repurposing old toys instead of discarding them, they learn that items can have multiple uses and that even seemingly outdated or broken objects can be valuable if given a new purpose. This understanding encourages them to think about their consumption habits and consider alternative ways to extend the lifespan of everyday objects.

Furthermore, repurposing old toys instills a sense of responsibility towards the environment. By discussing the benefits of repurposing, children learn that their actions have an impact on the world around them. By repurposing and reusing elements of their toys, they can reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.

Consider facilitating a discussion about not only the environmental benefits of repurposing toys, but also the human factor. Encourage students to consider how grateful a child might be to receive an “old” iPad or an “out of style” toy.

Specific ideas for repurposing:

Before beginning this project, it’s a good idea to browse some ideas online, or generate some creative ideas from ChatGPT. It’s important to explain that while AI is a helpful tool that can generate ideas, it shouldn’t be used as a substitute for student work. We’ve written a comprehensive article about How to Incorporate ChatGPT and other AI Tools in Your Classroom. Below are some examples of how to repurpose old toys to help students get started:

  • Miniature garden or terrarium: Transform a broken toy truck or dollhouse into a miniature garden by removing parts with cavities or crevices that are big enough to hold rocks, soil, and plants. Fill the empty space with soil and whatever plant or flower you choose, then decorate it with miniature figurines to create a tiny world.
  • Art supplies organizer: Students can transform an empty container or rigid toy into an organizer to store things like markers, pencils, paintbrushes, or rulers.
  • Musical instruments: Turn empty plastic containers into homemade musical instruments, or open a small old toy and fill it with rice, beans, or dried pasta to create shakers. Alternatively, simply add objects like sticks or rubber bands to create a new instrument.
  • Costume accessories: Repurpose old dolls or stuffed animals by turning them into costume accessories. For example, remove the clothing or accessories and attach them to hats or capes to create costumes for dress-up.
  • Customized jewelry: Similar to the idea above, encourage students to upcycle broken or unwanted beads, plastic pieces, or jewelry pieces into something new. For instance, remove the beads on an old bracelet and string them together with new beads to make a necklace.

Steps for this PBL project idea:

1. Taking stock: Before students explore the possibilities, they need to know what they have that they no longer play with. Students can bring in toys from home or organize a toy drive within the school or local community. Explain the importance of discussing their choices with their parents or guardians before parting ways with a particular toy.

2. Idea exploration: Once the toys are collected, facilitate a browse and brainstorm session with them. During this session, students explore the possibilities. This article from the Refab Diaries includes a bunch of cool ideas. For example, making bookends, abstract art, and plant pots. Assess the condition of the toys before making a decision

Some questions to consider:
  • Does the toy need a total overhaul? Is it broken beyond repair?
  • Could it be cleaned up or painted?
  • It’s also important to decide whom the toy will be given to – will it stay within their house, but serve another purpose? Could it be given to a friend or family member as a gift? Will it be donated to child in need in the local community or abroad?

3. Planning and design: Once students have chosen what they’d like to repurpose, they need to design a specific plan to help execute their ideas. Encourage them to draw their final product, label it, and write a list of things they’ll need to create it. They need to envision their final product to be able to explain how it’s going to work. Their final product doesn’t necessarily need to fulfill an important purpose, but instead, it needs to simply be reimagined.

4. Creation: By this point, students can now repurpose their toy depending on what needs to be done. For example, students can disassemble their toys to extract specific parts, begin cleaning or painting their toy, sewing it back together, or finding replacement pieces to repair their toy. During this stage, students can work in groups, pairs, or individually to repurpose their chosen toy.

5. Reflection: Now that the toys have been refurbished, students can revisit their decisions from step 2. Will they gift them to a friend or family member? Will they donate them to children in another country, or to a local toy drive? Be sure to showcase students’ ideas by facilitating a gallery walk or a school presentation. Encourage students to explain their process, the skills they used, and how they gave their toy a second chance.

Have you used any of these PBL project ideas in your classroom?

Do you have any other ideas for end of year PBL projects? Let us know below, or join the conversation on Instagram!

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