Project-based Learning, Data Literacy, and Online Resources


In the 1960’s students spoke of the “mind-blowing” Age of Aquarius. Today they speak of something even more amazing — and a good deal more data intensive: the Internet of Things (IoT), in which objects like doors and light switches can collect and exchange data. Of course, students are also bombarded with information on social and scientific issues, along with facts, opinions, advertisements, political speeches, blogs about health, the environment, technology, and so on.

Project-based learning (PBL) helps students survive this data deluge and voice their ideas on local and global issues.

The Inquiry-Based Disciplinary Literacy (IDL) Model provides unique student-driven opportunities to solve authentic problems in a collaborative environment. Planning, action, and reflection are crucial.

Students direct their own learning by developing real-world questions and conducting research to answer those questions. Students also decide what they will create and how they will share their findings. As students acquire new knowledge and embed it in the project, they learn and apply skills from all content areas.

The IDL process has five phases: (1) Ask a compelling question; (2) Gather and analyze sources; (3) Creatively synthesize claims and evidence; (4) Critically evaluate and revise; and (5) Share, publish, and act (Spires, H.A., Kerkhoff, S., Graham, A. & Lee, J., 2014).


Students begin with a list of topics. These can be derived from content-area standards, interdisciplinary units, news stories, books, social media, and other sources. Next, students learn to write a compelling question — one that motivates them to seek answers supported by sound evidence. In the process, students learn to identify the position and motivation of various stakeholders.

In the research phase, students make decisions about the credibility and relevance of the information they find — skills crucial to success for anyone confronting the IoT.  To make these evaluations, students must build knowledge from data (i.e., they must be data literate). That means answering some key questions: How was the data collected? Is it credible and relevant?

Now students can present and defend their opinions by making sound judgments based on reliable information. Key challenges in this phase involve choosing the best way to organize and display information for a specific audience.

PBL lends itself to differentiated instruction since students must make decisions about their roles in creating the final product. Striking differences in abilities will emerge. Students have a natural affinity to work on tasks that highlight their own strengths and interests. By working collaboratively in PBL groups, students can demonstrate those strengths and take responsibility for their roles in completing the project.

Students think critically to create the question and plan the investigation, as well as when they collect, evaluate, and display the data. Decision-making skills are crucial if students are to select appropriate digital tools to research, synthesize, evaluate, and publish the end product.

Need some ideas to help you get started with PBL and Data Literacy? Check out the United Nations Sustainable Development Global Goals for topics with universal appeal. Then, visit GatherIQ to research each goal in depth via multiple resources including slides, videos, data-sets, articles and more. This safe, user-friendly environment allows students to 'unlock coins' for various non-profit organizations in support of the Global Goals, all while exploring and learning about the issues. With GatherIQ, students will be able to formulate their compelling questions, begin their research, and analyze curated data to shape their responses.

Interested in learning more about Project-Based Learning and the Global Goals?

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About Author

Ada Lopez

Ada’s goal is to help improve children’s lives. Her inspiration to develop technologies that enhance teaching and learning comes from her years in the classroom. Ada taught high school biology in South Florida and middle school science in North Carolina. She earned The National Braille Press Hands on Award for co-authoring Reach for the Stars: Touch, Look, Listen, Learn.


  1. We missed you at the conference in Denver when there Monday, but wanted to ask you about acquisition of content. What procedures do you use in acquiring content? Do you accept content from outside sources? From where does most of your content come? Knowledge Headquarters creates online instructional content for elementary and high school students. There are over 3500 lesson modules in the data bank, each beginning with a PBL query in the form of a Problem Statement. Thank you for your time. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have questions or comments.

    • Lucy Kosturko
      Lucy Kosturko on

      Sorry we missed you at the conference, Martha. To answer your question, we create all of our content in-house!

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