Go Beyond Hands-on to Hands-in with Project Based Learning

Critical thinking, Habits of Mind, metacognition, and thinking about thinking 

—pick your term or phrase.


They all represent ways of helping students develop intelligent and effective thinking patterns, make meaning out of what they learn, and improve how well they learn.


Project based learning, experiential learning, and the constructivist approach

—pick your theory, pick your pedagogy.


They all incorporate methods and activities where students use critical thinking skills to learn by doing—the hands-on thing.  But it’s more than hands-on. Students don’t just produce a product for show, they perform the tasks hands-in, mind-in, all involved in examinations, analyses, inquiries, making comparisons and connections—

—and they are able to explain how they arrived at the conclusions they drew in the process of what they learned as well as how and why these conclusions led them to their final analysis, solution, or product. And they love it! They are completely engaged and often willing to give up break time to finish their work.

It’s not magic.

 It’s collaboration within an integrated curriculum structure,

and it’s called Project Based Learning.

Listen to what kids and teachers from School District 59, Peace River South in Dawson Creek, British Columbia have to say about Project Based Learning.

A Project Based Learning (PBL) Unit of Study

An excellent unit of study from GoTeachGo is BAM! Body and Mind. In this unit, as in PBL in general, students learn their accomplishments matter. The unit focus teaches students what it means to be healthy. The deeper understanding comes from research, comparison, and gathering data in a collaborative setting, and then creating something from findings that show what is learned. The lessons then move beyond show and into something sustaining and beneficial to others—as in this unit—students create a cafe they continues to manage, even after they have moved on to a new unit. What a great way for students to make money to support school activities.

At the end of each lesson in the unit, students reflect metacognitively on the critical thinking skills they used, how these skills helped them make sense of information as they learned, and what they learned about their own thinking habits.

It’s an integrated blend of thinking applied to content, and the product has meaning to students.

Think-and-Take Mini-Lesson #6

“Eat This, Not This”

Lesson from GoTeachGo 
PBL Unit – BAM! Body and Mind

Available on Teacher’s Pay Teachers

Eat this, Not This – A Game

This game comes later in the unit after students have done extensive study analyzing food labels on a variety of products. The food choices shown are not necessarily the healthiest choices to start with, but the idea is to know how to pick the lesser of the two bad choices, and to start thinking how to make unhealthy choices more healthy.

Students  have 7 pictures that ask students to compare the following food items and/or food from various restaurants. (Images of products and food choice are provided in the unit. At least two sets should be distributed to each group). These comparisons include the following:


  • Cheeses
  • Crackers
  • Cereals

Restaurant Foods:

  • Olive Garden pasta dishes
  • Burger King hamburger types
  • Subway Sandwich types
  • Kentucky Fried Chicken


1.  Break students into groups and have each group write down which the following are the healthier  choices, and why they think that way.

2.  Have students look over the food comparisons one at a time, discuss each one, and choose the one their group thinks is the healthiest of the two.

3.  Then have them discuss why the answer they think their answer is correct.

4.  After students have completed the activities for all comparisons, have each group share one of the answers to a comparison that they want to share.

5.  Then put the pictures that show the answers on the ELMO or some kind of overhead display so students can see how they did.

6.  The group(s) that get the most right win!


1. Ask students to write about at least one of the five critical thinking skills they used most to arrive at their conclusion. They might answer how the skill helped them and their group, and how using the skill helped them better decide on the choices they made. The idea is to get students thinking about thinking.

And that’s the objective!

Be sure to visit TeachersPayTeachers to examine lots of great PBL units of study from GoTeachGo.
Recommended Reading: “Why Is Project-Based Learning Important?”


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