Massachusetts middle-school students made national news earlier this year when they reached a moonshot goal of $1 million to fund research for a classmate’s rare medical condition. Their business plan involved selling jars of cookie dough mix and using social media to go viral with their campaign. Along the way, they learned about fractions, marketing, media, and empathy, as well as medical research.

It’s a remarkable story, but behind the headlines is another tale worth telling about the benefits of giving teachers time and support to design high quality Project Based Learning (HQPBL) experiences.

The cookie jar project was the brainchild of sixth-grade math teacher Kathy Simms at Ipswich Middle School. She is part of a cohort of 15 teachers from across the district who volunteered for a year-long PBL initiative.

When Simms designed the project plan, she paid particular attention to two key criteria for HQPBL.

She increased the intellectual challenge by emphasizing math problem-solving. Inspired by the insights of math educator Robert Kaplinsky, Simms decided to do less scaffolding during the calculations part of the project. Making the challenge more open-ended meant students would have to rely on their own questions and turn to their teammates to talk through potential strategies.

She also ramped up the authenticity of the project by introducing a real-world fundraising goal that she knew her students would embrace.

Read the full article about the impact of a project based learning plan by Suzie Boss at Getting Smart.