#RTR: Independent Study


I have 6 male students with autism who also have speech and language impairments. About half have intellectual disability. My class is self-contained, that is my students only leave my classroom for lunch and P.E. I also have the luxury of two paraprofessionals assigned to my students at all times. Periodically, I have students from general education come to my classroom because they have shown interest in connecting with my students. They’re a group that the school refers to as “Friends of Autism.”

The Independent Study course I accepted to teach was for a student who was interested in being a FOA but couldn’t come during the assigned enrichment period. So, in order to give him a meaningful experience for the time he will spend in my class as well as a grade based on some sort of work, I decided to take on a second concept with which I was unfamiliar, project-based learning (PBL).

I’ve been participating in the 2nd round of #IMMOOC and it inspired me to boldly and (almost) without hesitation decide this was the perfect opportunity to just start doing things that I think will be meaningful for my students.

Designing Instruction: Research for Reources and Tools

First I had to start with WHAT THE HECK really is PBL? There are A LOT of resources for PBL if you just google “project based learning”. I really had no prior knowledge or rubric with which to curate sources. But, I had also been researching service-learning, which really is just PBL with a philanthropic bent, so once I read a little, I felt pretty good that I had a shallow but functional knowledge of the concept.

But I kept looking. I hoped to find something I could just … steal. But no such luck. In my looking I found a couple of things that I found particularly remarkable (meaning deserves a remark!)

Buck Institute for Education
This site is DEDICATED to PBL for all stakeholders. I only really explored the teacher site and it was worth the browse. Here are what I consider to be the most useful, especially for beginners.

  • The TUBRIC 2.0
    One of the contributors created the TUBRIC to create driving questions for units which you can read about and download here and watch a video about here.
  • The Project Planner
    This link sends you directly to an interactive template that can guide you through the creation of your project. You can create an account and save and share your projects. If you prefer, here are the downloadable versions.
  • The Project Search
    This link takes you straight to a database of a few hundred complete PBL project unit plans.

But, the most exciting tool I decided to use with my independent study/project based learning class was actually the G Suite for Education. I heard about it on some podcasts and the more I dug, the more excited I became. Here are some resources I found while I was digging around that helped me understand more productive ways to use G Suite, some that I will use during this class and some another time:

  • 34 Interesting Ways (and Tips) To Use Google Docs 
    This is a PowerPoint created by Google. It’s probably the most comprehensive resource for things to do with Google Docs (probably because they created the product).
  • 7 Features of Google Keep for You To Teach With
    This resource I found when deciding whether to use Keep or comments for feedback. I ultimately chose comments because I wanted my feedback to be separate from the student’s product. Alice Keeler is a prominent G Suite user in the education world and her blog is dedicated to using technology in the classroom. I heard her on the last Bedley Brothers podcast and she’s a treasure chest of ways to make the classroom workflow more smooth.


After I did a fair amount of research and getting lost in the depths of the internet, I started planning. Above are merely the highlights of my research. The ones detailed don’t begin to touch the numerous websites, tweets and podcasts I took into consideration when researching PBL.

Designing Instruction: The Plan

When reading my plan, understand that I’m not a perfect teacher. Nor do I always follow the “rules” even if they are best practice. As it turns out, I’m only human and the luxury of time and attention to meticulously plan a semester’s long unit isn’t in my wheel house just yet.

I imagine that at the end of this process, I’ll lament that I wish I’d planned ahead more, but as The Innovator’s Mindset asserts, start something and the courage AND energy will follow. So, I’m going to forge ahead.

UPDATED 3.12.2017