Where to start? How to Finish?

I have been teaching at elementary school that teaches primarily through Project Based Learning (PBL) since 2014. I have created PBL units for students from kindergarten all the way up to eighth grade. I absolutely love what PBL’s bring to the classroom and how it can encourage students to develop their own creative ideas, rather than accepting the ideas of the teacher or fellow students. My goal for this post is to show you how I go about planning a PBL and how I finish a PBL with the students in my classroom.

Where to begin?

I am most likely not the only teacher that can’t turn off their teacher brain when they are not in the classroom. I can’t help but hear things or see things on the internet, social media, Reddit, and not think, “wow, that would be so cool to bring into the classroom!”. When I have these moments I quickly write them down in my notes on my iPhone or I save the link in a one of my brainstorming Google Docs. Once I have a good list of ideas of things that I want to bring into the classroom because I am interested in them and I think it would be fun for my students I turn to the standards. Let me say that again, I turn to the standards! I am saying this twice and bolded once, because I think there are some teachers that have forgotten to look back at the standards. Some teachers rely on the curriculum that their districts provide them to get ideas or think that they can’t get ideas anywhere else, but that simply is not true! Once I have checked the standards I think how to incorporate that cool thing I saw or heard to those standards. Sometimes it is as the entry event to my PBL or it is the overall theme of the PBL.

How it looks

When I was teaching kindergarten I heard a couple of people talking about a lost city called Singapore, Michigan and how it was located near the Saugatuck Dunes. I was interested instantly! I had no idea that there was a lost city so close to where I live and work. I did a quick Google search and found out that the lost city was buried by sand when so many trees were cut down to help rebuild the cities of Chicago, Holland, and Peshtigo after they had huge fires around 1871. After the Google search I looked at my Michigan Science Standards for kindergarten and found the following standards:

As soon as I looked at these standards I knew that I was going to be able to incorporate the story of Singapore, Michigan into a PBL unit. My entry event was going to be to go on a Saugatuck Dune Ride. During the ride over the dunes the guides talk about the lost city and how the shifting sands covered the area. Once I have an idea of where I am going to start and how it connects to the standards that I am teaching I look through the curriculum to see if there are any lessons that will help support the PBL. In this particular PBL I was able to connect some science lessons and writing lessons. The writing curriculum was focusing on the students expressing their ideas through pictures and labels. We collaborated with the middle school students to help at context to our pictures.

End Product

In any PBL there is always an end product. Sometimes, it is a presentation, physical artifact, or online post that shows the problem which was solved. The end product for the Lost City PBL was a book, which was written by the middle school students and illustrated by kindergarten students. We purchased a physical copy of the book to display in our school and we also sent a link home to parents so that they could purchase a colored copy or black and white copy for themselves. Another addition to Project Based Learning is connecting with an authentic audience. An authentic audience can look very different as you move across grade levels. At the kindergarten level our authentic audience is typically other classes within our school or family members. At the middle school level the authentic audience is typically an expert in the area that they are studying or a community member directly connected to the driving question or end product. The authentic audience can become part of the project at any stage. They can help kick off the entry event, give feedback during the middle where students need to bounce ideas off of or need additional support, and they can be the group that you present your findings too.

As you begin to plan your first or next PBL, don’t forget to start with the standards. Once you have connected the standards to a real-world problem or area of interest in your class then you can think about a potential end product. Be comfortable enough to fail and let the students explore their connections and ideas. If you want help thinking of project ideas to try in your class I recommend checking out the Buck Institute of Education website where they have a huge collection of projects done at all grade levels. Please feel free to contact me if you would like help thinking of project ideas or who an authentic audience may be for your grade level.

Image Attributions:
Kindergarten Standards:https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mde/K-12_Science_Performance_Expectations_v5_496901_7.pdf
Book Cover:http://www.lulu.com/shop/the-lost-city-of-singapore-michigan/paperback/product-23393012.html 

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