Project-Based Learning for Any Topic in Any Discipline: A New Vision for Teaching And Learning

By Acacia Warren
February 19, 2020

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Think about your K-12 schooling experience. How often did you engage in research and inquiry around a topic that you were truly excited about? As early as kindergarten, I was fond of sports, Michelangelo, traveling, holidays, food and different cultures. I distinctly remember traveling during the summer time and watching the Warriors, Oakland A’s and Raider games with my family. However, I rarely got the opportunity to study topics in school that were relevant and interesting to me. Once I had the means to inspire change in pedagogical practices, it become my passion to do so. I turned my dissertation on project-based learning (PBL) into a published book. I wanted to equip educators with a turnkey curriculum that accounts for planning, managing and assessing PBL. My intentions were to create an interdisciplinary PBL model that motivates students, amplifies student potential and transforms instruction. The ultimate goal? Push the boundaries of what’s possible for teaching and learning.

As schools experience unparalleled cultural, linguistic, and ethnic diversity, educators are tasked with contextualizing learning for various student populations. Responding to these diverse needs is paramount if schools are to equitably serve all students. When equity is at the center of learning, all students benefit.

PBL is one model for reducing curricular barriers and enhancing equity through exposure and opportunity. Allowing students to engage in authentic, student-centered experiences expands a student’s ability to think creatively and innovatively. PBL is one avenue for cultivating these outcomes. Students develop their own understanding of the world through inquiry, research, problem-solving, reflecting and presenting content. Because PBL organizes learning around projects that originate from economic/political/cultural/social/environmental or scientific phenomena, students go deeper for conceptual knowledge because they can study any topic, in any discipline. Equally important is the use of PBL to integrate the arts and raise awareness of equity/social justice issues. A balanced education embraces the arts (visual and performing) and elevates student consciousness around critical issues. Examples of projects that highlight the arts, equity and social justice are shown in group A and group B.

Acacia Book

Throughout my PBL journey, I have found that most educators endorse the concept of PBL. But many do not have access to a user-friendly curriculum that includes planning templates, rubrics, sample units, and sample presentations. For this reason, I created a Google folder with all of the above. Practitioners can utilize these resources to support their implementation of PBL. I also facilitated two full-day PBL Institutes for elementary and secondary teachers in southern California. The event was sponsored by UCI’s Teacher Academy and featured in the UCI School of Education Newsletter. Plans for leading another PBL Institute in 2020 are in the works.

To change the status quo, we must raise the instructional bar for all students. We can start by envisioning PBL as a pathway to student success, agency, motivation, and direct application of 21st century skills. Educators are tasked with preparing students for college, a career, and life. We can achieve these outcomes – and much more – through project-based learning.



Warren, A. (2016). Project-based learning across the disciplines: Plan, manage, and assess through +1 pedagogy. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.  


Acacia M. Warren, Ed.D is Single Subject Coordinator for UCI's MAT + Credential Program