How to Write a “Ripped from the Headlines” PBL and get an Economics PBL too!

How to Write a “Ripped from the Headlines” PBL and get an Economics PBL too!

In my Project Based Learning workshops, I’m often asked to share about “ripped from the headlines” type of learning. Basically, how can we pull experiences and topics from everyday real life into a PBL unit?

I’m constantly seeing PBL opportunities as I move through my life, both online and off. I have my eyes attuned to learning opportunities as I go and consider how I might get students interested in the topic and wanting to dig deeper.

So here’s one: Universal Basic Income. I keep hearing the concept pop up and see that it’s both intriguing and polarizing. What a perfect combo to get kids to wake up in a traditional economics class. And now how can I use it to float more traditional info (read as “foundational learning”) into kids’ brains? So I go find a brief, kid-friendly post and start there.

If I was a social studies teacher who taught economics either as a class (hello Senior year) or as a part of a class (hello 8th grade), I would definitely take a look at this article and use it as a potential hook to get learners talking about the pros, cons, dangers, and  benefits of universal basic income.

How would I use it?UBI Project Based Learning PBL

I’d start by asking some questions of my kids, helping them get their brains rolling. Something along the lines of,

The hook: 
“What if everyone could have their basic human needs met right off the bat, their basic food needs, clothing, housing, insurance, etc … those needs based from Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, ie clean air, water, and adequate access to sleep, food, clothing, shelter … just guaranteed to be met. If we didn’t have to worry about that, what could we do as a human race? As a community? Think about how much time is spent on working to pay basic bills? And the lost human potential of those who can’t seem to find their way out of poverty? And what if everyone had education, from Kindergarten to college/technical degree paid for? What human potential could be done? Of course some would take the opportunity to squander the chance to be/do more, but what about those of us who didn’t? What if we could make it a cultural understanding — like we have with the concept of “working to pay bills” — what if we could make it a cultural understanding that we’d use our our time for positive? Maybe this is an exercise in futility, but let’s put our brains to it for a bit, yes?


“There’s a concept that’s being toyed with right now called Universal Basic Income. I’m going to give you 3 class periods to come up with whether or not we should deeply pursue this as a goal, either on a small scale or as a global goal and why. Go.”

The research and learning:

I’d then let them do some initial Google searches and grab some beginning info. Meanwhile, I’d be asking the following questions out loud:

  • What is universal basic income?
  • Where did it come from?
  • This article mentions Thomas Paine back in the 1700s. Yes people like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk are now talking about it again. What is the benefit in a modern society, at least as these folks are touting it?
  • Find who is calling Universal basic income a farce. Who is saying that it will never work in today’s modern society?
  • Why or why is UBI a better alternative to other forms of economic systems? What are we currently using? What would need to shift in order for UBI to come to fruition?
  • But perhaps there are countries that are getting it to work. Who is that? How is it working for them? How is universal basic income different than Social Security or Medicaid benefits?

They then would have some time to come up with a pro or a con statement, and then compile evidence to support their point of view. My role would be to knock hard on some of their walls (regardless what side they chose) and try to expose some weaknesses of thought or premise to help them make a stronger case.

They might start as individuals, but then group up, based on where they’re leaning. Or not. I’d let them choose.

After final presentations (their choice on style), they could then come up with 3 things that would have to change or be in place for the other side to be possible. This action helps people to understand and empathize with an opposing point of view, which is an exercise and skill that’s sorely lacking in today’s world.

Of course, this is just a “ripped from the headlines” topic that can be explored in many ways. What I’ve sketched above is literally an initial thought about how it might look in a classroom. Of course we want to look deeper into content — sometimes — but sometimes not. Sometimes we can sink an interesting topic that could carry kids a long way into our topic by overloading it with cargo of foundational learning that’s currently putting them to sleep. Let’s use this UBI topic to get them farther down the river of their attention before making them want to jump ship. They’ll develop some navigational skills and then recognize that they might *want* some foundational skills as they approach deeper, more dangerous waters. And I’ll be there to help them when they ask!

If you’re looking for more support with Project/Problem/Passion Based Learning at the K12 level, consider any combination of the following:

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Written by GingerLewman

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