Practical Tips on Community Centered Project Based Learning at the University Dr. Safa Khan, CSU Channel Islands - Chemistry Department


This webpage provides a few targeted techniques for community project based learning at the university level. Examples are provided from chemistry courses at CSU Channel Islands: Chem 100, 101 and 344. The project topics include sustainability projects and CI student designed science experiments for K-8th grade.

“Isn't this the purpose of education, to learn the nature of your own gifts and how to use them for good in the world?” ― Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants
Top two images: Chem 344 students hosting Earth Day at CSUCI. Bottom left image: Chem 100 student preforming an experiment. Right bottom image: Elementary school student performing an experiment.

Topics Covered

  1. Create a Backward Project Design
  2. Provide a Project Overview & Roadmap
  3. Cultivate Intrinsic Reward
  4. Scaffold Assignments and Provide Examples
  5. Allow Room For Improvement
  6. Provide Detailed Rubrics
  7. Future Implications & Conclusions

Backward Project Design

  • What final products do you want your students to achieve?
  • How is the product related to the course objectives?
  • Do your final products require student accountability beyond a grade?

Expected Final Products: Sustainability Project

  • Implementation of project
  • Host a table on Earth Day – typically 300 attendees
  • 2-5 min video
  • In class presentation
  • Educational Creatives (poster, survey, games, etc)
  • Webpage

Expected Final Products: Science Experiment Project

  • Perform experiment
  • Educational Creatives
  • Lesson plan
  • 5-10 min video with science and society graphics
  • Experiments performed by K-8th graders – 522 students
  • Projects showcased at annual Science Carnival - 5191 attendees.
  • Experiment materials made available on an online website

Example CSUCI Student Created Video on Adobe Spark

Example Student Graphic Created on Adobe Post

Website with the experiments: science.cikeys.com

Provide a Project Overview & Roadmap

  • Purpose and goals
  • Expected final products
  • Learning objectives
  • Grading
  • Project assignments/roadmap

Cultivate Intrinsic Motivation: "The Why" Beyond the Grade

  1. How is the course material important to your students and their lives?
  2. How can you connect your material to the local or scientific community?

Student Comments

Average hours spent per week outside of class: 4-6 hours

"My favorite part of this class was creating a science lesson plan and video for the elementary students to participate in. Many young students throughout this pandemic have not been able to do many fun activities at home and I was very happy that my classmates and I were able to provide a fun learning environment in the safety of the students’ homes." - Erika Valencia

"In truth my favorite aspect of this class was actually having the opportunity to share with the community ways to express the knowledge displayed to us from energy and society. I believe that if we can influence the younger generations about the field of STEM, we can help guide them about how to make the world a better place." - Jason Mesa

Cultivate Intrinsic Motivation: Passion For More than a Grade

Allow Student Choice

1. Create approved topics that match your course and stakeholder needs.

  • Food chemistry
  • Air pollution

2. Project Sign Ups

  • Student editable Google Doc
  • Provide approved topics
  • Students find and choose projects

3. Alternatively: students or groups submit project ideas

Cultivate Intrinsic Motivation: Accountability Beyond the Grade

  1. Community Accountability
  2. Peer to Peer Accountability

Community Accountability

  • Project management assignment
  • Peer responsibility agreements
  • Communication agreements
  • Survey stakeholders

"Dr. Khan, can I turn my assignment in tomorrow? I do not feel like it is good enough to be presented to the kids and I want to make it a little better." - Chem 100 student

Faculty Comments

"The lessons were excellent due to the great lesson plans, materials list, having the supplies you ordered ready to go and the outstanding videos! Thank you so much for these resources." - Jo Anna Mendoza, 4th Grade Teacher

"This collaboration between 2nd grade at Rio Del Sol and the university students from CSUCI was a beaming light during this pandemic! As we navigated the river this year, these projects provided the 'engine' we needed to swim upstream - to overcome the current ... Teacher dreams really do come true!" - Rickey Koga, 2nd Grade Teacher

Who can you collaborate with?

Internal Collaboration

  • Facilities (engineers, architects, groundskeepers, etc.)
  • Academic Affairs (Provost’s office)
  • Student Affairs
  • Interdepartmental faculty and staff (ESRM, Communications, Biology, Health and Wellness, etc.)

External Collaboration

  • Outside companies (Restaurants, Tech. companies, EJ Harrison, etc.)
  • Infrastructure (water treatment)
  • Government or political entities
  • Local schools

Peer to Peer Accountability

  1. Group projects
  2. Peer feedback
  3. Group members grade each other

Peer feedback

  1. Empowers students to teach each other.
  2. Accountable for quality work posted on a public place.
  3. Student's learn from each other and the quality increases.
  4. Strengthens the bonds and community between peers.

Tip: Provide a clear rubric for your expectations and scoring system. Rubric example:

  • 2 points for posting your own URL
  • 2 point for providing comments on your own work.
  • For each star or wish (6 points total):
  • Full credit: 1 point per each thoughtful and respectful star or wish.
  • Partial credit: 0.5 points if the star or wish is not constructive or useful (e.g. good job). Or, you are missing your own posting here.
  • No credit: 0 points for no star or wish. 0 points if the comment is rude or inappropriate.

Example Peer Feedback Given on a Lesson Plan in Chem 100

Scaffold Assignments & Provide Examples

  • Increases clarity, quality and success.
  • Consider making templates in Google Docs.
  • Add /Copy to the end of the URL of the Google Doc and students will be prompted to make their own copy to edit.

Allow Room for Improvement

  • Draft assignments with feedback
  • Consider creating a Google Doc for feedback per group or student
  • Make corrections worth a significant amount in the final assignment

Provide Detailed Rubrics

  • Students know what you want.
  • Easier to grade.
  • Increases quality of work.

Future Implications & Conclusions

  • Multicontexted learning, communal work and nonlinear learning can increase success, participation and diversity in STEM (Weismman et al., 2019).
  • Increase equity and sustainability within the community.
  • Inspire teachers, students and community members in STEM subjects.
  • CI students will have gained insight on how the knowledge gained from their science class can be used as a tool to improve the community.


Many thanks to those who supported and made this project possible. Funding has been provided by:

  • Adobe
  • IRA (instructionally related activities fund)
  • Faculty Small Grants Program

Media Appearances

  • CSUCI’s Virtual Science Carnival will bring more than 50 hands-on science activities to kids and families. Amigos 805. April 5, 2021. http://amigos805.com/csucis-virtual-science-carnival-will-bring-more-than-50-hands-on-science-activities-to-kids-and-families/
  • Gregory, Kim. Virtual Science Carnival will bring more than 50 hands-on science activities to kids and families. CI News Center. https://www.csuci.edu/news/releases/2021-science-carnival.htm


Weissmann, Gary S, Ibarra, Roberto A, Howland-davis, Michael, & Lammey, Machienvee V. (2019). The Multicontext Path To Redefining How We Access And Think About Diversity, Equity, And Inclusion In STEM. Journal Of Geoscience Education, 67(4), 320-329.