One of my favorite parts of the recent TEDx Talk that I gave [see below!] is what I call “the rock band section.” It starts like this: imagine that a teenager comes to you and announces, “I want to start a rock band.” What is your response as a parent? As an educator? As a counselor? While others may dismiss this idea as a waste of time, I see a declaration like this as the perfect impetus for project-based learning.

In my TEDx Talk, I go on to show the boundless opportunities that can come from starting a rock band that tie into academic, creative, leadership, organizational, philanthropic, and personal development. A more intellectual starting point, however, may better shine a light on how we can use extracurricular activities in high school as amazing project-based learning experiences.

Let’s say a teenager becomes immersed in politics – a PBL mindset can lead to deep learning through engaging real world applications. Beyond discussions and debates in History and Government classrooms, that student could contribute their voice to political columns in the student newspaper – or even a local publication. They may seek out local political organizations and start volunteering for a certain cause or campaign. Maybe they can even get a position working for a local politician to gain greater insights into the day-to-day responsibilities of a political leader.

All of these are examples of a student taking greater ownership and agency over their learning. By making their intellectual interests comes to life through meaningful and stimulating engagement based in real world experiences, they gain the traits and skills needed to become more purposeful learners.

And here is the bonus: all of this will greatly enhance that student’s resume, but none of it will feel like ‘just another thing for college.’ They will be pursuing project-based learning opportunities because of genuine interests and authentic passions,
as opposed to being driven by a possible acceptance from a university.

This is the power of project-based learning beyond the classroom. Students can dwell in possibilities and begin to realize the limitless applications that can enhance their learning and enrich their lives.

About the guest blogger: Eric Karlan is a Co-Founder of Ivy Experience, a college prep company that works with students of all interests and goals from across the country and around the world.