We write a lot about project based learning. Just what qualifies as a learning project? I guess I have never generated a list of “must includes.” Some folks worry about such things and as long as such lists are intended as a way to stimulate thinking, I feel they are useful.
A group at the University of Michigan has generated a list of design principles for science inquiry projects. You can read their analysis of project essentials in the Educational Psychologist, 35(3), 165-178 or online.
The design principles follow from a social constructivist perspective (sounds abstract, but translating the basics is a useful exercise). The social constructivist features include: (a) active construction (e.g., collect evidence, find examples), (b) situated cogntiion (experience how knowledge and skills are applied within the discipline of study). (c) community (a community of practice, e.g., biologists, have a vocabulary, methods for answering questions, procedures for communication) and (d) discourse (symbolic forms used to communicate).
The authors propose that projects should: (a) be based on general guiding questions and domain standards, (b) involve inquiry – an extended process of posing questions, gathering evidence, reaching conclusions, (c) require collaboration (working with peers and perhaps experts), (d) use learning tools that provide opportunities for data collection and interpretation, and (e) generate artifacts (products that can be shared and evaluated).