Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Project Based Learning Explained

I've heard a lot of buzz about Project Based Learning (PBL) lately.  Other bloggers, Twitter, and Facebook seem to be talking a whole lot about this method of teaching, and it just so happens that my school district is the recipient of a large grant to explore PBL.  To date, I have had some formal PBL training, as well as exploring this curricular model on my own.

What is PBL?  The Buck Institute (the PBL gurus) define Project Based Learning as "a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge."  You can read all the gory details of PBL here, but the big components of a true PBL project are quality content, 21st century skills, inquiry, a solid driving question, need to knows, voice and choicerevision and reflection, and a public audience.  

How does all that fit into kindergarten, you ask?  Well, it's definitely possible.  It's a lot of planning on my part, yet it's also a lot of letting go of some control and giving students freedom in their learning.  I'm all about that!  I will admit, although my class has completed what I feel like was a very successful project, I do not claim to be a PBL expert.  I am planning on attending a national summit next month that will help me to better understand how the encompassing PBL model fits into a primary classroom.  I will make sure to keep you up to date on my findings as I learn them.

Where does technology fit into PBL?  While technology is more methodology and PBL is more curricular, the two can stand alone, but they compliment each other so well.  Technology lends itself to voice and choice, deepens the level of inquiry, opens a world of choices for a public audience, and definitely utilizes 21st century skills.  

Anyway...  Onto our PBL project...

The event that got our project rolling was our President's Day unit.  Snowmageddon 2014 caused us to not spend as much time on that unit as I would have liked, but we went on as planned. Since my students had knowledge of some of the Presidents (mainly George Washington and Abraham Lincoln), I began one of our meetings with a discussion reviewing these two famous Americans.  After discussing for a few minutes, I asked the kiddos if any of them had been to a museum.  The results were about half and half.  I showed the kids this video from the Smithsonian Museum of American History:

After watching the video, I posed the question to the kids, "How can we, as museum curators, teach our peers about famous Americans throughout history?"  (I will admit--it didn't happen quite that smoothly... I had to answer some random questions, have some random conversations, and lead back to the topic at hand before posing the question.  Tis the life of a kindergarten teacher...)

The following day, we created our list of Knows, Need to Knows, and Next Steps.  This is a critical component of PBL.  Here is our finished (and rewritten--blame it on my horrible penmanship) anchor chart.

After we finished the top part of our chart, I sent the kids to work in their groups (which I selected) to come up with a first and second choice for their topic.  As you can see, the kids chose a wide range of people to study!

From there, we spent the next few days in workshops.  The workshop consisted of a combination of direct instruction, watching videos on BrainPop Jr. and Learn360, and reading books on MyOn.  

Here is a peek inside one of our workshop days.  The kids used the MacBooks to watch BrainPop Jr. videos to research their American.

A wonderful resource I used to guide some of my instruction was this little product from Teacher to the Core:

While I did adapt this to meet the needs of our class and project, it has so many FABULOUS resources.

After workshopping was over, we began working on our final steps of our project.  We created posters of each American to display next to our projects.

We went outside to make our posters... It was 70 and sunny.  After the winter we've had, who can blame us?!?!

The kids decided (with A LOT of input from me) to create iMovies as their displays.  One partner would dress the part of the famous American, while the other held the display (the iPad).  

The students were required to find at least 4 pictures of their American, and write 4 facts.  We created the entire project on the iMovie app, which is extremely kindergarten-friendly.  It took about 2, 1 hour work sessions to complete all ten iMovies from start to finish.  I told you, it's extremely kindergarten-friendly.

Our presentation day came, and  These kids blew me away.  I don't know how many times I said, "We are acting like professionals for our audience!" (may as well had my voice recorded saying it), but it stuck.  Here are some pictures from the public performance.

Abraham Lincoln

Jackie Robinson

Johnny Appleseed

Barack Obama and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Amelia Earhart

George Washington

Betsy Ross

Overall, I feel as if this was a successful attempt at Project Based Learning.  As I said in the first paragraph, I am extremely interested in learning more about how to integrate PBL into ALL subjects. While we used our literacy and math skills in this project, I would love to see what I learn at the Elementary PBL Summit next month.  

Our next project has already started!  We will be creating a pocket park in our city with the local Street Art Initiative.  Before spring break, we had our entry event; check back later this week for more details of what we will be doing next!

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