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What is Service Learning?

-taken from: "Service Learning Framework, Make Your Teaching Stick, and Change the World," A Manual for Developing Your Own Service Learning Project,” Facing The Future: People and the Planet,

Service learning is a teaching tool that ties academic curriculum to a service project that both reinforces and expands students' learning. It is aimed at creating experiential education for young people so that they can connect the learning to their own lives and provide a benefit to the local or global community. The three major elements that define service learning are:

  1. girlsSamplingStudents, teachers and community partners develop learning objectives that meet educational standards and address the change in knowledge, skills and attitudes they expect to see as a result of the service project
  2. The project addresses a real community need and is linked to learning objectives
  3. Students have an opportunity to reflect on and learn from their project before, during and after their service

pathfinder mapThrough the CREATE section of the Connecting The Coast website, you will be guided to design a service learning experience to ACT to help resolve critical issues facing the Lake Superior Basin.

See a sample curriculum used in the Lake Superior Pathfinders Program, for an example of an experiential program for high school youth focused on developing environmental leadership to help solve invasive species problems. You can follow this example or design your own for the issue that interests you!

If you are doing a service learning project as part of a classroom assignment, we encourage you to develop a partnership with your teacher to make sure educational standards for your school, grade, and state are met. Your teacher and other community partners can help you identify service learning experiences that will help you learn more about an issue and take meaningful action to help solve it in your community.

Let’s get started!

STEP 1- Spark Your Ideas

"I can make a better world with my own two hands" -from a song titled "With My Own Hands" by Ben

Let’s spark some ideas to help build your personal service-learning project. Take a few minutes to think about how you would respond to these questions. They will help you find out more about what interests you about the critical environmental issues affecting the Lake Superior Basin and your community and how you might like to solve them.

If you need to investigate any issue just click on each icon for a review.

trash smoking Critical pollutants (like mercury, PCB's, dioxins, persistent pesticides) and working to achieve a Zero Discharge into the environment
invasive evil microbe Invasive plants and animals and their impact on the environment
healthy green habitat Protecting, maintaining, and restoring high quality habitat
canoers Sustaining diverse and healthy aquatic communities
kid with fish Human health and reducing the risk to people from environmental contaminants
planet earth Building more sustainable ecosystems and communities

Others: ________________________________________________________________________


Targeting A Project

Look, observe, listen to environmental issues in your school and community. How do your concerns and dreams about the environment issue(s) relate to the problems in your community?

◊   What are your worries about the environment in your community?

◊   What concerns do other people have?

◊   Who are the people who could use a helping hand in solving environmental issues?

◊   What part of the environment could use your help?

◊   Is there a part of the environment that is overlooked or neglected?

◊   What groups are already involved, how can you help them?

◊   How are other organizations or people lending a helping hand?

Building On Your Expertise

What knowledge do you have to share with others? Do you have any special talents that you could use to help solve these environmental issues? Here are some idea sparkers!


◊   Speaking, presenting to others

◊   Energizing, taking action

◊   Team building, developing partnerships

◊   Creating

◊   Imagining

◊   Writing

◊   Drawing

◊   Entertaining

◊   Planning

◊   Problem solving

◊   Teaching

◊   Researching

◊   Mentoring

◊   Others ____________________________

children looking at map

student on computer



◊   Playing an instrument or singing

◊   Creating things

◊   Acting

◊   Collecting things

◊   Surfing the web

◊   Caring for others

◊   Public speaking

◊   Outdoor adventures, recreation

◊   Others __________________________

students presenting

student writing

Now that we’ve sparked some ideas, take the next step and plan your personal project.


picking up trash
This service learning project involved studying invasive plants affecting Lake Superior and removing them from a wetland where they had invaded.

Use this worksheet to plan your service-learning project. Write down answers to these questions to help focus your ideas into a project. Think about the type of service learning project you would like to design to help resolve a critical issues affecting the Lake Superior Basin or your community. Reflect on the issues that concern you and the special skills and interests you have to solve them.

Investigate different service learning projects at "Facing The Future." This website has give great examples of student-based service learning projects, including projects to help solve environmental issues.

Start with the “BIG SO WHAT?" What is the bottom line of what you want to accomplish in your project and be of service to your community and the environment? What are the key ideas or concepts you want teach others, demonstrate, or cover in your project? So what do you want to accomplish?

The bottom line of my service-learning project is that I want to:


Goals and Objectives

A goal summarizes what you expect to learn or accomplish in your project. Example:
Goal: “As a result of this project, my community will better understand impact of burning barrels on environmental health.”

Once you have the goal written, objectives describe how you will reach the goal. Objectives are specific and explain methods and/or results that can be measured. There are different types of objectives including:
Knowledge Objectives- What will you or others learn as a result of the project?
Skills Objectives- What will you or others be able to do?
Personal Growth Objectives- How will the project develop your leadership, personal attitudes, values, etc. or improve the personal growth of others?

Objective 1:  I will design and display a poster at the community center that explains the danger of burning barrels on human and environmental health.

Objective 2: The Town Board will pass an ordinance prohibiting the use of backyard burning barrels.

Develop Project Goals and Objectives.

You can plan the goals and objectives for your project in two ways. Pick whichever option fits your needs and interests:

Option 1 You know what you want to accomplish, but you don’t have a specific project in mind yet. You will develop goals and objectives first, then brainstorm project ideas that will help you accomplish them.

Option 2 You’ve got a specific project in mind, so you will develop the project idea first and work backwards to see what goals and objectives your project meets and what components are missing and need to be incorporated. 

Option 1. You already have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish. Make a list of the goal(s) and objectives you want to accomplish through this project. Try to be as specific as possible.







OBJECTIVES (what I need to do to accomplish my goal)





students drawNow, brainstorm a list of possible projects that might help you accomplish the goal(s). You can brainstorm your ideas on a piece of paper. Don’t worry about organizing them for now, just brainstorm!


Option 2. You like to think about projects first. Brainstorm the project you would like to develop to achieve the BIG SO WHAT? Write down the key project idea and concept you want to do.


Need Project Ideas? Visit the ACT section of Connecting the Coasts. You will find a list of project ideas you can use in your community to help solve each of the major environmental issues affecting the Lake Superior Basin.

Next, list the goal(s) and objectives you will accomplish through your project. Does anything need to be added to your original project idea to complete these goals and objectives?











Fine-Tuning Your Project

Now that you have a project, goals, and objectives, consider these logistical questions to help fine-tune your ideas and make sure it can be completed. If these questions raise concerns, you may want to modify the project. Some things to consider:

girl writing in notebookHow long do you have to complete the project?
Think about the time you have to complete this project and the time you have to devote to it. This will help you tailor your idea to the amount of time you realistically have so you can finish it.

Do you have the resources you need?
What are the resources you need to complete the project? Resources can include key people, natural resources, adequate transportation, equipment, money, organizations, and access to information. Are the resources you need readily available or will it be difficult to access? 

Fine-tune your project to fit the time and resources that you have available to you.

Plan Time For Reflection 

girl sitting on beachThis is one of the most important parts of a service learning experience. It is time when you move from participation in an activity to deeper understanding of what it means in terms of learning, personal development, and service to others.

Reflection should take place throughout the service-learning project. It is an activity where you record your experiences, thoughts, etc. that arise during the service-learning project. The way you chose to reflect should meet your personal learning style. It may be through writing, art, or performing, You may chose one, or several ways, to use reflect during the project.

Before getting started on the project, plan the types of reflection activities you want to use before, during, and after your project is completed.

Reflection activities about your project experience may include:

Click here to open the Reflection Toolkit for more ideas


It is important to plan this time into your project from the beginning. Consider these important times to include reflection:

Pre-Project Reflection:
As you start your project, some questions to reflect upon include:

Project Reflection:
Some examples of questions to reflect upon during the project or after it has been completed include:

Evaluating Your Performance

rubric cube
A rubric cube can be turned in almost an infinite number of ways to reveal new combinations of its individual smaller sections. The rubric form of evaluation allows you to select how you will evaluate your project.

Before starting your service-learning project, develop a self-evaluation tool to help you evaluate how well the project is going and if you are achieving your goals and objectives. This will help you recognize if you need to fine-tune the project once it is started. Brainstorm some ways to evaluate you will evaluate to know if the project is on track and accomplishing what you want it to do. 

One way to evaluate your performance is to develop a “rubric.” Using a rubric evaluation method, you can assess many different elements of the project and how will each task with the project was completed. Just like a rubric cube, there are almost an infinite number of ways you can assess and evaluate your project and performance.

The rubric categories you chose to evaluate your progress will depend on what assignments you set for yourself as part of the project. Most service learning projects include group or individual activities or tasks that make up the larger project and reflections

Create A Rubric For Your Service Learning Project

Answer the following questions to help you get started on creating your own rubric.

  1. What are the different components or elements of the project?






  2. What practices or learning do you want to emphasize in your project (these are related to your learning objectives) and what is most important to you to achieve.
  3. Think about the different elements of your project as you have outlined in #1. Rank these as to which is the most important to the least important. This will help you establish how many points each component should be worth.

Here is a one example of how to create a simple assessment rubric for a single objective. The way you design your rubric and the values you give to each objective and task you set for yourself are your decision. If you need more assistance on creating a rubric, ask your instructor, or web-search on “creating rubrics.”

Sample Rubric Template:

Overall Project Description Rank How Well You Accomplished What You Wanted To Do and Assign It a Score (5 for totally accomplished my objective to 1 for not achieving my objective)
  Score for achieving your objective Score for somewhat achieving your objective Score for not achieving your objective
Description of Project Element #1      

Practice or learning accomplished


Practice or learning accomplished

Total Points for this Element      
Description of Project Element #2      

Practice or learning accomplished

Total Points for this element      

Example of the Rubric Template With Objectives and Performance Criteria Filled In:

Project Description:
Prepare and Give a Presentation On Invasive Species
My Project Elements: Accomplished my objective-5 points Somewhat accomplished my objective-3 points I tried, but did not accomplish my objective- 1 point
Objective #1: Give a talk on Invasive Species to my class      

I presented a talk on invasive species to 30 members of my Biology Class

Total Points for this objective=5

5 points:
I presented a 15 minute speech to 30 students in my Biology class

Objective #2: Use research information from at least two qualified sources in my speech

I interviewed the state Aquatic Invasive Species Specialist to learn about the latest research on invasive species

I did a Google search on invasive species and read one on-line article

Total Points for this objective=8

5 points: I got some great information based her personal research 3 points: I should have verified the Internet information because it did not apply to our region.  

Objective # 3 : Demonstrate how to control an invasive species in the field as part of my presentation

Total Points for this objective=1

    1 points: The weather got too cold to go outside and I could not demonstrate. I should have planned for an indoor option in case of inclement weather
GRAND TOTAL = 14 out of 20 possible      

group demo

Demonstration / Celebration. Getting recognition for what you have accomplished allows you to share your work and it’s fun. It helps you see the positive impacts of your project and reflect on what your have learned and accomplished.

Demonstration and celebrations of your achievement might include:

bullet Presenting the project to others

bullet Creating a display to show the project’s final results

bullet Getting recognition about the project in the media

bullet Posting the project activity and results on the web

Check out the ACTION TOOLBOX at for ideas on how to show off and share your work.

Brainstorm other ways that you will demonstration and celebrate the project when it is completed:

CONGRATULATIONS! You have just created the curriculum for your personal service learning experience. Now take the ACTION you have planned.

group of students

When you have completed your project, be sure to share your reflections on the REFLECT page

Click here to see examples of service learning curriculum for a Lake Superior Basin issue used in the Lake Superior Pathfinders Program

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