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MIT BLOSSOMS Project-Based Learning Units: Tragedy of the Commons


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About This Lesson

MIT BLOSSOMS has a Project-Based Learning site with six in-depth lessons designed for high school teachers who want to give PBL a try, but are not sure just how to get started. Each BLOSSOMS PBL unit is developed to provide a teacher with all the resources and scaffolding needed to conduct a three to five-week classroom project. Every BLOSSOMS unit kicks off with a BLOSSOMS video lesson, thus providing the anchoring content and direction for a follow-on project. Teachers new to PBL will also find on this site many answers to questions they may have, as well as invaluable advice on how to successfully lead a PBL unit. While we understand that most teachers won’t be able to devote three weeks completely to a Project-Based Learning unit, the units provided here can be presented on non-consecutive days, for example, two days per week. It is our hope that these units will be valuable stepping stones as teachers grow in confidence about developing their own PBL units! We encourage teachers new to PBL to visit the following resource on this site: Teacher Questions on PBL. To take a Video Tour of this BLOSSOMS PBL site, click here.

Tragedy of the Commons: Driving Question
What free resources around us are abused, overused or collapsing?
How can we restore these resources to a better state?

Tragedy of the Commons: Big Idea
Planet Earth is a finite space ship. We must treat it with care. Students research overused, abused and collapsing public local resources, then create and present solutions to a rich audience.

During this one month project: 

Students will learn:

  • The meaning behind the metaphor, “Tragedy of the Commons”
  • To recognize problems of shared resources
  • How to conduct applied research, including interviewing and possible fieldwork. 
  • To use math modeling skills to consider the consequences of various actions
  • Many "soft skills" required for 21st Century careers

Students will be able to:

  • Work in small teams addressing a local problem of resource use, possible abuse, and corrective management  
  • Define problems, when there is no right or wrong answer
  • Use math functions to solve problems of shared resources
  • Compromise with team members to move forward in their work
  • Organize and structure their approach
  • Use data and interviews
  • Present final results

For all project materials, visit:


External resources
Tragedy of the Commons
Remote video URL


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