Examples of Project-Based Learning modules

Examples of Project-Based Learning modules

The University of Puerto Rico-Río Piedras Campus

1)      Aerobic tertiary treatment of wastewater; Specialized Skills & knowledge: aerobic microbial metabolism; operating pilot scale equipment; process control; experimental design.

2)      Aerobic tertiary treatment of wastewater; Specialized Skills & knowledge: aerobic microbial metabolism; operating pilot scale equipment; process control; experimental design.

3) Scaling up microbial Processes; Specialized Skills & knowledge: choosing scaling parameters; troubleshooting scale-up failures; case studies in scale-up; experimental design.

4)      Biodiesel Synthesis; Specialized Skills & knowledge: lipid chemistry; combustion calculations; experimental design; process optimization.

5)      Algal biofuels; Specialized Skills & knowledge: algae production techniques; biogas production from algae; biodiesel production from algae.

6)      The economic viability of algal biofuels. Specialized Skills & knowledge: conversion efficiency calculations; financing biofuel facilities; regulatory issues surrounding biofuels.

7)      The economic justification for Renewable Energy; Specialized Skills & knowledge: cost optimization for different energy sources; economic savings due to energy efficiency; calculating capital costs of a renewable energy system.

8)      The environmental benefits of low carbon energy systems; Calculating true carbon footprint of energy technologies; calculating life-cycle costs of energy systems; calculating energy return on energy investment.

9)      Impact of pulse and press disturbances on nearshore community biodiversity and productivity

10)  Measurement of chemical contaminants in seagrass beds and coral reefs and their impact on marine organisms.

11)  Measurement of nonlethal effects of temperature, turbidity, and chemicals on seagrass and reef organisms using electrophysiological techniques.

12)  The role of physical forcing in modulating changes in benthic community structure.

13)  The role of ocean acidification in nearshore benthic community structure, survivorship and resilience.

14)  Marine Geography

15)  Beach systems

16)  Natural and Human variables affecting coastal systems

17)  Coastal risk and hazard assessment

18)  Quantifying and understanding society’s perception of changed ecosystem services.

19)  Examining behavior and policy outcomes that attempt to mitigate changes in water, temperature, and hurricane regimes.

20)  Linkages between urbanization and stream ecosystem function (e.g., metabolism) and services (e.g., water quality).

21)  How does urbanization in the tropics affect biological diversity?

22)  How do humans perceive and respond to diminished ecosystem and urban system services?

23)  Human Dimensions of Environmental Change. Students will survey research on the relationship between human and natural systems in sociology, political science, anthropology, economics, public health, cultural studies, environmental studies, planning, geography, and other fields in relation to selected environmental problems. In addition to the results of these studies students will learn about the varied methods of these disciplines and examine the epistemological barriers between them.

24)  Urban Environment, Expansion, and Design. Students will study environmental characteristics of cities and suburbs, environmental impacts of urban development, and principles of sustainable urban and suburban development. They will focus on the connections among land use, urban form, transportation patterns, tourism development, and environmental problems.

25)  The role of ecosystem services in environmental and public health issues.

26)  Evolution of environmental policy and the ethics of different stakeholder positions. Students will explore “environmental capacity”, defined as both the possession of the proper resources necessary for the implementation of activities associated with environmental protection, as well as the willingness to use those resources. Environmental issues are questions of managing the commons (Hardin 1968), meaning that conflicting values are involved. Therefore students will need to apply an ethical perspective to environmental issues, health promotion issues and policy solutions.

27)  Socio-Ecological Models and Ecological Informatics. Ecological forecasting and methods of socio-ecological models and scenario building, as used for example, by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MES 2005, Carpenter & Folke 2006, Tallis & Kareiva 2006). Ecological informatics is a toolkit students will need for managing and using the large databases that accumulate in environmental monitoring programs and that can be used in socio- ecological models. Students will develop a model to cover the natural and social system components of the selected Puerto Rico environmental problem.

28)  Communication on the Environment. Skills of formal debate and argumentation. Special emphasis will be given to the emerging field of ecocriticism and the ethical dimensions of resource allocation. Through selected issues, students will explore the ethical foundations of different viewpoints with emphasis on clarity and accuracy in the communication of the supporting science to diverse members of the community.


University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez Campus

1)      An Educational Module for Integrating High-Precision GPS Techniques Into Undergraduate Geological Classes (by Dr. Guoquan Wang, UPRM). GPS has been widely used in earth science for precise positioning and kinematic displacements. However, very few earth science departments offer GPS classes. Dr. Wang will develop an educational module to teach high-precision GPS to geoscience majors. This module will train students to perform professional field surveying in the field and process GPS data through on-line service from NOAA and JPL. Students will get experience of performing a high-precision GPS surveying within 4-lab classes (12 hours). The module can be easily integrated into many traditional geological classes, such as plate tectonics, volcanology, geological hazards, engineering geology, and field geology.  This educational model can also be developed to a standard procedure of conducting GPS landslides surveying in Puerto Rico. Thus, the GPS technologies can be effectively transferred to local engineers.


2)      An Educational Module for Teaching TLS to Earth Science Students and Faculty (by Dr. Guoquan Wang, Geology Department, UPRM). Terrestrial Laser Scanning (TLS), as a new technology and research tool, has been frequently applied in earth sciences. TLS acquires ground deformation information in a spatial domain with centimeter accuracy has high potential for high-precision ground deformation monitoring. However, the management and process of the large amount of data is still a challenge for most applications. Most software packages available for processing TLS data are commercial. The cost of a TLS project could be considerable largely because of the high cost of the available commercial software. Dr. Wang has successfully used an open-source software Generic Mapping Tools (GMT, http://gmt.soest.hawaii.edu) to process and visualizing the TLS data from a TLS landslide monitoring project. He will develop an educational module for TLS data processing using the open-source software. The module can be used for students and faculty training. This model be integrated into many earth science classes, such as morphology, topography, sedimentary geology, volcanology, field geology, and neotectonics.


3)      An educational module: Understanding climate change through environmental data for students and teachers (by Dr. Amos Winter, Marine Science Department, UPRM). The IPCC concluded that climate change may cause significant damage to property and the economy, and result in loss of life, especially in tropical islands. Nevertheless, many island inhabitants are not aware that Puerto Rico will be hit hard by the predicted changes in the near future.  On the other hand, Puerto Rico displays a dense network of environmental telemetry because of the involvement of nearly all local and federal agencies covering a wide swath of data.   For example the National Weather Service has over 100 Cooperative Weather stations with over 100 years of precipitation and temperature data.  The U.S. Geological Survey has over 20 years of stream flow data.  The U.S. Environmental Protection agency has a large web based mapping tool for Puerto Rico.  These large and varied data sets are available but not much has been done to learn from then and integrate the information.  Dr. Amos Winter and other faculty at the Department of Marine Sciences will develop and educational module which will teach students the methods and means used to study and analyzing the various data sources with special emphasis on data integrations.  This will allow students to understand the complex interactions between the effects of climate change, human behavior, and natural conditions in tropical locations. Most importantly, by using the data sets firsthand, students will become interested in the environment and start to ask relevant questions which will lead to them  pursuing careers in STEM related topics.

4)      An Educational Module for teaching Reef System Science (by Dr. Clark Sherman, Department of Marine Science). Coral reefs are fragile, highly complex communities which have great biological and habitat diversity. Together, with adjacent and interrelated seagrass beds, mangrove forests, other substratum compositions, and their physical and chemical environments, they comprise the coral reef ecosystems which support well over a million species.  Coral reefs provide a great setting to study and apply the principles of Earth system science, i.e., studying the Earth as a system comprised of interrelated and interacting parts (e.g., atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and solid Earth) that function as a complex whole, specifically to the study of reef environments.  The module will highlight: (a) The importance of examining reefs as systems where biological, chemical and physical processes and products interact to makeup a reef (b) The use of reefs as excellent examples of an Earth system, (c) The examination of reef systems over geologic time scales and finally (d) The application “reef system science” to understand the current state of and general decline in reefs and how a broader understanding of reef systems can help us to better manage reef environments

5)      An Education Module for Teaching Environmental Interactions:  Algae and Corals (by Dr. D. Ballantine & Nilda E. Aponte, Marine Science Department). Algae are well known to play a number of important roles on coral reefs.  Massive coralline algae are major contributors to coral reef physical structure in many Pacific reefs. Occurrences of “algal ridges” are also known from the Caribbean region.  Two anthropogenic activities have had catastrophic effects on coral reefs directly by affecting algae that naturally inhabit coral reefs.  These include eutrophication through input of elevated nutrients and over-fishing of key herbivorous species, respectively.  The first has promoted intense algal growth and the second removes an important top –down controlling mechanism to algal growth.  The result of the environment having been changed to favor algal growth over coral growth and recruitment has been what is referred to as a “Phase Shift” in which coral reef dominance has changed from a predominance of coral organisms to a reef structure dominated by algae.  The proposed module(s) will provide students with a series of (3) lectures concerning the above topics.  One field trip will also be planned and will allow students to see: coralline algae in the field, other calcified algae important to sediment production (Halimeda), and cyanobacterial blooms in seagrass beds.


University of Texas, Arlington

1)      Climate reconstructions of various times in the past—Earth is a dynamic planet and climate change has occurred “naturally”

2)      Aerosols and airborne particulates: sources and effects—cooling/heating controlled by constituents in the atmosphere that come through both natural and human-induced processes

3)      Ocean circulation and climate change—feedback loops

4)      Role of plate tectonics on climate—long-term background controls of global climate

5)      Land subsidence and sea level change—sea level fluctuations can result from rising seas or sinking land or combinations thereof

6)      Hazards versus risks—hazards are natural and constant; risk is loss of property and life and can be mitigated through appropriate behaviors

7)      Using speleothems and stable isotopes to constrain past climate: techniques for analysis of the past to provide basis for understanding of modern climate system

8)      Statistical analysis of time-series data—use GPS geodetic data and/or tree ring measurements to illustrate long-term versus short-term trends in data (this to explain that one cold winter does not mean that global warming is not real)

9)      Volcanoes and earthquakes with emphasis on active Soufriere Hills volcano and Haiti

10)  We can also address sustainability issues in concert with School of Urban and Public Affairs.


California State University, San Bernardino

1)      GPS module: Build skills in graphing by plotting GPS time series.  Use trigonometry to combine north and east components of GPS velocity vectors into the resultant horizontal velocity vector and resolve these vectors into components parallel and perpendicular to the plate boundary.  Build skills in modeling and statistical measures of goodness-of-fit by using elastic theory to find the fault slip rates that best fit the observed GPS velocity vectors.

2)      Economic Resource Identification and Delineation (ERID) Module. This module will involve a laboratory that will use a special layer cake with an irregularly-shaped interior “ore body” layer of a different type of cake. In each group, students use straws to take core samples of the cake to find and then delineate the ore reserve. However, students only have a set “budget” that permits drilling of a few holes, so they must come up with an efficient drilling strategy. The conclusion of the exercise is an examination of what worked and what did not, as students are permitted to mine (and eat) the cake and make a true map of the concealed ore body.

3)      Water in the West involving a number of separate modules to cover basics of hydrology, surface water resources, ground water resources, resource distribution, history of water use and water rights, basics of water law, and resource degradation (pollution).

4)      The Resources of the Earth modules would cover energy resources, industrial minerals, base metals, precious metals, gemstones (including gem identification, geology of gem deposits, and causes of color in minerals), resource management and environmental issues related to resource extraction.

5)      Rate of geological movements ranging from quick (inflation related to magma movement or growth of deltas related to floods or volcanic eruptions to slow (overall rate of movement of San Andreas fault, plate  movements). Show students the great variation in rates of geological processes from almost instantaneous processes to ones that take millions of years for any effects to be seen. Use of basic statistics; interpretation of geological and topographic maps.

6)      Effect of rise of sea level on land use using specific examples from Caribbean. Most major town in the Lesser Antilles are along the coast. What effects would a rise in sea level have on these locations. Involve use of and interpretation of topographic or digital maps.

7)      Location of active volcanoes and type of eruptions (related to plate tectonics) plus location and description of currently active volcanoes, and those that have erupted within a fixed time period, e.g. 20 and 50 years. Provide students with a better idea of the geography of the World, and map recognition and the relationship of volcanic activity to plate tectonics.  Comparison of volcanic activity through time, using basic statistics.

8)      Assessment of volcanic hazards using specific examples. Interpretation of geological and volcanological data to develop models to assess future volcanic activity.

9)      Case studies of geologic records of past climate change to be integrated into Geol 101 and Geol 309 lectures and/or labs.


University of South Florida

1)      Revision of course, Experiential Learning in Marine Science, to include environmental field data collection using GLOBE science protocols related to climate change (e.g. hydrology, atmosphere, phenology, land use) that can then be incorporated as part of larger GLOBE data sets used by climate change scientists internationally

2)      Revision of UG Environmental Sciences courses, in collaboration with USFSP College of Arts and Sciences, to embed GLOBE science protocols related to climate change

3)      Learning Module on how to access and utilize GLOBE data sets to conduct research inquiries using relevant climate change data to emphasize the interdisciplinary sciences related to climate change; the idea is to engage science majors and non-majors in climate change science via a publicly accessible resource that can be used beyond the classroom environment.


Examples of training/course for communication science:

1)      Revise Scientists in the Classroom course for students and faculty to focus specifically on communicating and teaching climate change science

2)      Revise Teaching Marine Science I and II courses to include a teaching module (developed by partner institutions) on climate change during K-12 school visits as part of OCEANS Teaching Fellowship program (formerly, NSF GK-12).

3)      As Center matures, provide a professional development module for scientists and policy makers emphasizing ways to communicate about climate change science within our regions

University of the Virgin Island

1)      The effects of climate change on synchrony of spawning and larval dispersal patterns in the Virgin Islands.

2)      Increase in bioerosion as a harbinger of acidification on coral reefs

3)      Resilient socio-ecological systems

4)      Population dynamics of Diadema antillarum

Miami Dade College

The MDC currently offeres a course titled “Energy and the Natural Environment”.  In this course, student investigate the physical environment using energy as a atheme to demonstrate the impact of science and technology on the environment and on the lives of people. In the accompying lab, students explore ways in which energy moves through the atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biophere, the advantages and disadvantages of various energy sources, and the potentiel of conservation as an energy resource.  Both of these courses as well as the chemistry and physics labs would be revised to incorporated renewable energy project-based learning modules.


New Courses to be developed or existing courses to be revised

Energy in Natural Environment (revised)

Energy in Natural Environment Lab (revised)

Biofuel Energy (new)

Physics with Applications I (revised)

Physics with Applications I Lab (revised)

Physics with Calculus  I (revised)

Physics with Calculus I Lab (revised)

Physics without Calculus I (revised)

Physics without Calculus I Lab (revised)

Physics with Applications 2 (revised)

Physics with Applications 2 Lab (revised)

Physics with Calculus 2 (revised)

Physics with Calculus 2 Lab (revised)

Physics without Calculus 2 (revised)

Physics without Calculus 2 Lab (revised)