From Bike Shops to Body Image: 14 Place-Based, Student Projects to Celebrate this Season

At Place Network school Koshkonong Trails, student-led projects have always been an important aspect of the school year. So much so, that they even plan an entire day for students to share their learning with the rest of the Cambridge, WI school district K-2 students. Pretty cool if you ask us! Last week our Place Network coaches had a chance to sit down with the students to reflect on their projects, share their learnings and think about their ideas for next year’s project. But, before we dive in, we wanted to share some important elements that apply to every project you’ll be reading about:

Voice and Choice

All students have a great deal of freedom over how and what they are learning. With voice and choice, learning becomes personally relevant to students and enables greater student agency and engagement.  


Student projects typically have real-world impact, whether it’s informing the design of a tiny house, developing a workshop on body image for middle school girls, or raising livestock. Students see their efforts reflected back to them in the things they are able to accomplish within their school community and beyond.

Place-Based Design

All projects are designed to reflect at least one of our place-based education design principles: community as classroom, inquiry-based, design thinking, learner-centered, interdisciplinary approach and local to global.

Now, let’s dive in!

Cain, 7th grade

Project: Pigs!

Description: I bought, bred, and farrowed my pigs this year. My sow, “Lulu” was 375 lbs and she had 12 piglets. Two piglets were stillborn. I like to show pigs. The biggest thing I learned in this project is that livestock die and that’s just part of it. I also learned that I have to just keep up the learning attitude because if I want to keep going, I have to.

Highlighted PBE elements: design thinking, community as a classroom, and learner-centered

Project Idea for Next Year: I’m thinking about a canoe home/space in the barn and how that can be easily accessible. I like to do things with my hands. I also want to keep doing pigs. (Our Place Network coaches suggested that if he does continue with pigs that he think about how to incorporate math into his project by tracking how the amount of feed given impacts the weight of the pigs.)

Eric, 10th grade

Project: Rotary Engines

Description: I really like engines, and I wanted to learn more about them, so I researched rotary engines to learn how they work and why they aren’t used today. I concluded their emissions are too much because it burns both oil and gas and is not efficient in terms of fuel. This was one of my best projects because it was well organized and I was super invested in it.

Highlighted PBE elements: Learner Centered, Inquiry Based

Challenge? I wanted to build a more fuel-efficient engine, but that part of my project didn’t happen because it would have taken a lot more time and materials that I didn’t have. I couldn’t figure out how to buy all the parts and pieces that I would have needed. I also could have had more collaboration built into my project–it was a lot of self-learning.

Project Idea for Next Year: Unsure.

Ada, 8th grade

Project: Workshop about Body Image for Middle School Girls

Description: I participated in a youth advocacy workshop last summer on body image and extended this learning into the school year with a project on body image.  I plan to hold a workshop for middle school girls (rising 6th and 7th grade) this summer using what I learned in my research as well as the workshop.  I have spoken with the MS counselor and principal and they said I can hang a poster advertising the workshop. I have friends and my sister who would be willing to help. My idea for the workshop is to have an icebreaker, then share a presentation that gets into content but is easy to understand, and then do an activity to create a “safe space” with the girls. My goal is to educate my peers because I can’t change how people think of themselves but I can give them knowledge to help them to be informed.

Highlighted PBE elements: Learner Centered, Classroom as Community, Local to Global

Challenge? I took a break after class in the summer, which made it hard to start back up. I could have been better about my project management.

Project Idea for Next Year: Unsure.

Makayla, 8th grade

Project: Eco-Friendly Flat Design

Description: I decided to do a math-focused project because I finished math a few months ago and I am building this project from what I’ve enjoyed in math and what I want to know more about. Also, we are building a tiny home on our property, so I wanted to have some knowledge about the process. I started with geometry concepts like maximizing floor space and making energy-efficiency work well (which leads to choosing types of windows or rainwater collection systems based on roof angle) and then went into algebra concepts as I figured out the cost of the house. I did a lot of reading about tiny homes and permaculture and that helped me to think about this idea but I am learning that there are so many layers, although I didn’t go in with a clear enough vision of what I meant by “eco-friendly.” It makes sense to me why people work in teams when they build a house! I also would sometimes talk to the contractors in my house about questions I had. My public product in our showcase is going to be an online 3D model to show my design, but I want to keep going with this next year.

Highlighted PBE elements: Inquiry-based, Design Thinking, and Interdisciplinary Approach were the key pieces

Challenge? I want to get to know more people in the community because we just moved here and in the future I want to connect with more experts. Project management has also been challenging and I’ve learned more about effective to-do lists, for example, now I set one task per day to accomplish. If I have more time, then I move onto the next but I don’t try to do too much.

Project Idea for Next Year: Continue with this project. I will have others too.

Sam, 10th grade

Project: Land Regeneration and Wildland Firefighters

Description: I started out with an interest in wildland firefighting, and really, an interest in Hot Shots. I have a neighbor who is a Hot Shot, so he inspired me. I love learning hands-on and so when I started thinking about controlled burn areas on our land and started to get into land management, it led me to native plant species, animals, land use/management, and, finally, prescribed burns. I’ve been doing a lot of research with my father as a resource too. I have written some of what I am figuring out into a draft of a land management plan. I still need to do a prescribed burn and I’ve been talking to a firefighter in WY who is part of the wildland firefighters out there. My goal for my product is to have a research plot of land that can be added to throughout the next two years while I’m at Koshkonong Trails and I can work to implement my land management plan which will include burns, but also bringing native species back. My real hope is that I can hand this project over to a student with similar interests so that it keeps going.

Highlighted PBE elements: inquiry-based, community as a classroom (our Place Network coaches pointed out that truly all PBE elements are embedded into this project!)

Challenge? Realizing that my first idea actually grew into a much bigger idea and now I have a lot to manage in a really big project.

Project Idea for Next Year: I’m going to continue working on this main project for the next couple of years, but I am interested in connecting more with other students around the country too.

Gunnar, 8th grade

Project: Pigs!

Description: This is a multi-year project because last year I had all of my pigs and I was showing at fair. I had two gilts. I have shown dairy cattle for a long time and I bred dairy cattle. I wanted to try out pigs since I hadn’t yet. This year, I bred my pigs in October and then they had piglets in January. June will be the first showcase I do. My biggest learning was in the farrowing stage [when pigs are about to give birth]. I spent a combined 5-6 days in the barn sitting in my lawn chair just waiting for piglets and taking care of them right away. My sow was really hungry the whole time and was trying to eat her babies because of that, so I had to move them away and take care of them. I had some family friends who helped me to learn all about this and helped me to write a biosecurity plan to make sure my pigs would be healthy. Farm Day was a highlight to show younger kids what I do, what I care about, and that all of my money goes back into my pigs. That was cool.

Highlighted PBE elements: Learner Centered, Classroom as Community, Design Thinking

Challenge? A lot of my project management was in my head but I found challenges and had to solve those along the way.

Project Idea for Next Year: I want to keep doing pigs. Our Place Network coaches suggested a handbook for how to raise pigs and a tracking of the finances that go into the whole process.

Lily, 7th Grade

Project: Women in Stem (Formally Sexism in Science)

Description: I was in the Biology Seminar and we were learning about DNA and learned that Rosalind Franklin took the first picture but it was claimed by two men in her lab who later went on to receive the Nobel Prize. I was working on researching many women in science and creating small biographies of each woman, but then I thought it would be fun to figure out how to have lots of women in this community get excited about STEM. I plan on having a Women and Stem night for girls (K-6th) to learn about all the amazing women scientists.   

Highlighted PBE elements: Learner Centered, Interdisciplinary, Local to global

Challenge? When I get to my final product I think it will be hard to do the teaching part in front of others. I’ve been helping with students coming to our farm, but not doing a lot of the teaching.

Project Idea for Next Year: I have a list of topics I am interested in (Marine Biology, Biology, Photography) and so many others to try out!

Greta, 7th grade

Project: How does screen time impact humans?

Description: This project started because my mom is a preschool teacher and she had a parent tell her about her high school aged son who had to have surgery on his neck and doctors thought it was because of screen time. I thought this would be a quick project with research, talking to doctors and hospitals and having conversations with people, but it took a really long time because there were lots of different things to explore like weight gain associations, diabetes, and heart disease as well as what sorts of limits you can give yourself and stretches that can be helpful if you are typing a lot. I created pie charts that show the recommended screen time by age. One thing that has changed is my own habits. I like to draw, and instead of using a computer image, now I go outside and draw the plants and things around me instead of being on a screen.

Highlighted PBE elements: Local to Global

Challenge? My project was harder than I thought. It took a really long time and that was hard. I started planning to do only a half week of research but then when I talked to my uncle it took a lot longer.

Project Idea for Next Year: Unsure.

Annie, 9th grade

Project: Handmade Soaps and Conditioner

Description: My project idea formed because I really like nice smells and I also like it when people have ethically-made products, so I wanted to make my own and see how easy it could be. I also had some learning targets that I was working towards in Chemistry, so I was able to combine those with something I was interested in. I wanted to create a product with zero waste and so when I started with the soap, it did not go well. The conditioner turned out nicely after a few batches and I think it was because I was sticking more to the recipe and using cocoa butter instead of chemicals from the lab. I considered selling the bars, but I decided not to. I am going to share the research I learned and create a new batch of soaps and conditioner to share at our project showcase.

Highlighted PBE elements: Learner Centered, Design Thinking, Inquiry-based

Challenge? In the beginning, this project was challenging to manage because of gathering materials in a timely manner and being able to use the chemistry lab in the high school.

Project Idea for Next Year: Unsure.

Anya, 7th grade

Project: Blood Project

Description: I started this project because I was missing a few learning targets in Biology and I wanted to do something interesting. I decided to research blood and blood diseases to share information with my classmates and teach them about what I was learning. I linked everything back to genetics which was the seminar we were taking and I learned so much about blood types–I didn’t realize how important blood types were in how people live. I did most of my research online.

Highlighted PBE elements: Learner Centered, Inquiry

Challenge? It was a challenge to have reliable resources because sometimes the resource would tell me one thing and then another one would contradict what the last one said. So I had to stick with medical journals and hospital websites.

Project Idea for Next Year: Unsure.

Brynn, 7th grade

Project: The Impact of Animals on Human Mental Health

Description: At one point in the year I had the idea to think about how animals impact our mental health. I did a lot of research, but it led to conflicting information. One of the things that 

made me interested in this is when we had kittens on the farm and then they would come and sit with you when you were doing something inside. Or when we were taking care of the chickens. Some of my research showed that there are positive impacts, but that there are also no changes for some people, so it’s not totally clear. I am going to share my learning at our showcase (Our Place Network coaches suggested a mini-research project within the showcase night. Perhaps bringing in some animals for people to hold while they listened to Brynn’s presentation and also have a control group and then survey them after her presentation).

Highlighted PBE elements: Community as a Classroom, Inquiry-based, Design Thinking (If I come up with a plan to implement around animal support in our classroom)

Challenge? The conflicting information was hard to navigate.

Project Idea for Next Year: Unsure.

Moira, 8th grade

Project: Snakes

Description: I was inspired to do my project because I have a snake of my own and many folks have automatic reactions or fears to snakes. I was interested in why this might be and I thought I could connect some of my Biology learning targets to this part that I was interested in. Ms. Emrick helped me to make those connections. One of the things I did was compare the anatomy of a snake to the anatomy of a human. I painted the anatomy of a snake on a large scale. I also learned a bit more about the history of snakes and what snakes are native in Wisconsin. I created a pamphlet about local snakes to inform people. For my public product I am going to make copies of my pamphlet to share with people and I am going to have similarities and differences of human vs. snake anatomy to share as well. My goal in this project was to learn more about snakes and to do some research into why snakes are feared and I think I accomplished this goal.

Highlighted PBE elements: Inquiry-based, Local to Global

Challenge? Completing the large painting of the snake anatomy was the most challenging.

Project Idea for Next Year: Unsure.

Calli, 8th grade

Project: Virtual Tour of Cambridge

Description: I wanted to be able to share the highlights of our community with people who are visiting or who are new to our small town. To do this, I decided to create a virtual tour of Cambridge. I gathered information about each business by going around town and interviewing each person. I sometimes would go into a business and maybe they didn’t have a lot of time to talk to me, so I would just ask a few questions and leave. I chose the different categories in the virtual tour because those seem like the most important [grocery, schools, town hall, and small businesses]. I am planning to share this at our showcase (Our Place Network coaches asked if Calli thought she could ask the visitor center to put it on display or perhaps another place in town where her virtual tour could truly support visitors). I learned a lot more about my town by putting this together.

Highlighted PBE elements: Community as a Classroom, Local to Global, Inquiry Based

Challenge? It was hard to have so many people not answer all of my questions, but I still wouldn’t have changed much because I didn’t want the tour to be overwhelming to visitors, so keeping it short is good.

Project Idea for Next Year: I’m not done with this year yet!

Jon, 8th grade

Project: Bike Shop Business Plan

Description: I race mountain bikes and I really like working on them, so I wanted to do something with that. Also, there is no bike shop in town, so you have to go to Fort if you want to go to a bike shop for a tube or something. My project is that I designed a business plan for a hypothetical bike shop. I created a budget with details about an employee cost, space, and rent downtown. In my business plan I could write about how a bike shop might run because I’ve been involved in a few bike shops, so I really needed help with the other pieces like the budget and the profit projections. My mom is renting a building downtown and I might be able to put my business in there. For my project presentation I am going to share my business plan and what I have learned (Our Place Network coaches suggested bringing his bike in and working on it or inviting others to bring their bikes in to have tuned during his showcase).

Highlighted PBE elements: Local to Global, Design Thinking

Challenge? I haven’t had any challenges in actually creating the business plan, but actually starting the business would be really hard and there are lots of things I just don’t know about doing that.

Project Idea for Next Year: Unsure.


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