Jennifer Snelling
three teenagers serve a meal in a shelter

Teachers often tell their students they have the power to change the world. And they've never been more right about that. Digital tools have made it so easy for students to get involved in all sorts of causes and service projects.

But they can't do it alone. Educators can light this spark by guiding students to resources and organizations to take action. A nice bonus is that authentic social justice or community service projects have the potential to engage students in the subject matter teachers need them to learn. These projects also empower kids to participate in their society and our democracy.

“This is some of the best work we can do as educators,” says Suzie Boss, author of Reinventing Project-Based Learning with Jane Krauss. “These sorts of projects help students figure out what they’re passionate about, and what they’re capable of.”

Boss recognizes that, for many teachers, connecting to experts and audiences can be a challenge. Boss recommends crowdsourcing your own school community to see if they know anyone who can help or give feedback on student ideas.

Community partners are often eager for a practical, useful way to connect with schools, Boss says. If you ask for a short amount of time to allow kids to see the organization in action or request a demonstration of how to design experiments, people are generally willing to help. Don’t forget that tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts are there to overcome logistical challenges brought on by the switch to remote learning

And you don’t have to start from scratch. Boss recommends joining an existing project or adapting one to your students’ needs. Here are some examples of existing projects or organizations that students can tap into:

Constitutional Rights Foundation

The Constitutional Rights Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, community-based organization dedicated to educating young people about the importance of civic participation in a democratic society. The website has ideas of project-based civics lessons on immigration and the Bill of Rights as well as many other aspects of the U.S. democracy.

Centre For Global Education

The Centre For Global Education provides international learning opportunities, enhanced through technology. The Global Encounters series brings together students from around the world through live video conferences that explore a particular global issue. Each event also involves interdisciplinary, project-based activities, completed asynchronously by participating students on a specially designed, multilingual online classroom platform. 

Earth Care Education

Earth Care Education includes science and math resources that encourage students to be environmental stewards. The intention is to create an online community to increase awareness of climate change and inspiration for repairing the planet.

Earth Care Geek

Earth Care Geek is a student-created website that explores different key environmental issues. Each individual site has Learn, Act and Geek Out sections for different issues.

EAST Initiative

EAST Initiative connects students to sophisticated hardware and software tools and challenges them to apply the technology to identify and solve problems in their communities. EAST also offers technology training and professional development for teachers.

Generation On

Generation On provides programs and resources that support the development of capable kids and teens through service, empowering them to become change-makers in their communities and the world. Find ideas, opportunities and grants for community service projects.

Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group

Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group is a Tufts University-based team of mathematicians studying the applications of geometry and computing as they relate to U.S. redistricting. Regional workshops are available for teachers and high school math students in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Texas and California.

Mikva Challenge

The Mikva Challenge engages youth in civics through projects, such as Elections in Action, which allows students to participate in phone-banking, door-knocking, registering voters and blogging. Students learn to critically analyze issues, build communications skills, and learn the nuts and bolts of campaigning. Project Soapbox is a public speaking competition, facilitated by Mikva Challenge, that calls on young people to speak out on issues that affect them and their communities.

National Service Learning Clearinghouse

The National Service Learning Clearinghouse is a free online K-12 resource that matches grade levels, subjects and interests to thousands of projects.

National Youth Leadership Council

National Youth Leadership Council provides service-learning content to school districts and classrooms. Specific programs provide student leadership training, let students work on safe-driving initiatives and education equity, and provides resources for teachers and districts.

Seed Lending Library

The Seed Lending Library provides students with instructions for developing a seed saving and lending library. Excellent for biology teachers.

Need PBL ideas? Discover real-world projects for real-world classrooms. Read ISTE's book Reinventing Project-Based Learning.

Jennifer Snelling is a Eugene, Oregon, education blogger who explores how technology enhances education. This is an updated version of a blog that originally published on Oct. 17, 2017.