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The National Park Classroom

A Guide to Designing Project-Based Learning Adventures

About The Book

The U.S. National Park Service describes its parks as “America’s largest classrooms,” and for years, its rangers have been developing educational approaches that invite visitors to engage with their surroundings in active, participatory ways. This book shows classroom teachers how they can use these same methods, as well as a vast array of national park resources, to address common instructional challenges and boost student engagement and retention, integrate equity, improve college and career readiness, and more.


This book introduces the National Park Classroom (NPC) Framework, which enables teachers of all subject areas and grade levels to take advantage of national park resources and educational practices. Park rangers draw on pedagogies such as project-based learning, inquiry-based learning and culturally responsive teaching in their lessons, and the book shows how the NPC Framework can help classroom educators use those same approaches to design engaging units and projects for subjects like math, science and language arts. These lessons are anchored in the ISTE Standards and incorporate content standards such as the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core State Standards (CCSS). 


The book: 

  • Highlights resources available to teachers and their students through the U.S. National Park System and other public land agencies across the globe.

  • Provides insights and tools for leading high-quality project-based learning.

  • Offers guidance for transitioning from a teacher-centered classroom to a learner-centered classroom.

  • Shows how to apply successful equity and inclusion practices from the national parks in classrooms and schools.

  • Provides examples of “place-conscious learning,” with strategies for connecting students to distant parks and other places.

With strategies backed by research and reflecting best practices from proven learning models, this book shows educators how to integrate the great outdoors and park-inspired learning into their classrooms to drive student engagement and agency, and better prepare students for college and beyond.

The Research

"PBL works. It works for everyone. And now we can measure it"

- Kristin De Vivo, Executive Director, Lucas Educational Research

The research that backs PBL is very deep, but of particular interest is a two-year study conducted by Lucas Educational Research in partnership with The University of Southern California. The study, which encompassed five large urban districts and thousands of students, concluded that a project-based approach to teaching produces better learning outcomes than a traditional approach. Important conclusions from this research include;   

  • Student who took the A.P. exams performed better with a project-based learning approach. During year one of the story, 45% of the PBL students scored a 3 or higher as compared with 37% of those students who were taught traditionally. Year two the spread was two points higher in favor of PBL once again.   ​

  • There was no difference in outcomes between students from low-income household and those from high-income households when PBL was the main instructional approach. 

  • As the teachers in the study became more knowledgable about PBL, the academic outcomes for the students increased as well. By year two, the gains were in the double digits!  


One very important takeaway from the study was that these remarkable outcomes came as a result of expertly-designed projects using a high-quality PBL model and teachers who received ongoing professional development, something James would love to bring to your school! Click here to find out more about working with him! 

Preorder A Copy

Environmental Science For Grades 6-12:
A Project-Based Approach to Solving the Earth's Most Urgent Problems.  

Environmental science (ES) education is essential to providing students with opportunities for hands-on investigations to find solutions to complex environmental problems. But the recent COVID-19 crisis has dramatically curtailed student access to ES-focused experiences, particularly affecting students of color and those from low-income communities. At the same time, changes in pollution and air quality levels, as well as a resurgence of wildlife, have created new avenues for students to connect with the revitalized world through technology and social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies.


Project-based learning (PBL), with its emphasis on inquiry and authentic challenges, can be an effective approach to teaching ES. Those new to PBL may not feel they have adequate training. Likewise, teachers who haven’t taught ES may question how to incorporate it into their curriculum. This book addresses both situations, providing practical guidance for teachers, along with examples of technology-rich, learner-centered student projects covering a range of timely and cross-curricular topics such as endangered animal populations, maintenance of oceans, rebounding of bee populations and urban air quality.


This book:


  • Helps teachers design learning experiences that model authentic problems and processes practiced by scientists and engineers, to prepare students for future careers in science. 

  • Provides strategies to develop students’ SEL skills and instill in them a renewed empathy for the environment as they get a glimpse of what a better, cleaner and more sustainable world can look like. 

  • Introduces facilitation techniques that redefine the teacher’s traditional role as one that supports increased student agency, the development of critical thinking skills and an expanded awareness of their place in the global community. 

  • Includes a chapter that focuses on applying the principles and strategies shared in the book in an online learning environment. 

  • Addresses Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) topics in environmental science and is aligned to the ISTE Standards for Educators.


PBL is one of the best ways for students to explore complex processes and concepts, and this book will help teachers leverage this approach to empower students to take action toward a better future and world.

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