Project-Based Learning

Project-Based Learning (PBL) is a shift from traditional teaching, moving away from isolated lessons and into integrated, cross-discipline learning.  In many projects, the idea stems out of curiosity, as in classes at Newsome Park Elementary School where Billie Hetrick’s students wanted to learn more about Cystic Fibrosis, which impacted one of their classmates, or in Robert Lirange’s class where students wanted to create a business to “trade” on Wall Street (Curtis).  In other cases, such as Eeva Reeder’s geometry project where students design a high school for year 2050, the project is teacher created but student driven (Armstrong).

In project-based learning, the design follows three main components: planning, researching, and presenting.  During the planning phase, students and teachers create a guiding question and determine what will need to be done to complete the project.  The researching phase is when students do the work needed to answer the question, researching, synthesizing information, and developing new understandings about their topic.  The culmination of each project is the presentation, in which students deliver their findings to parents, peers, or community members.

During projects, the teacher’s role shifts to that of a facilitator, posing questions and ensuring the projects stay on course.  They design field trips and organize any outside help or speakers needed for the project.  As with traditional teaching methods, they ensure that standards are being met and assess student learning both cumulatively and formatively.  The students’ role is to work collaboratively to research and synthesize information. They decide how and where they are going to find data and information regarding their task.  Students apply their knowledge and create a new product or understanding as a result of their work in the project.  Finally, they present their findings and reflect upon (and evaluate) both the project as a whole and their contributions to its outcome.

In What is Project-Based Learning, the ideas of PBL is summed up nicely when stated that, “PBL asks students to investigate issues and topics addressing real-world problems while integrating subjects across the curriculum” (edutopia).  Student engagement increases through the use of technology along with, “doing real-life things, and doing it for a purpose” (Curtis).  Throughout the articles and videos cited here, students agree that they have more interest in project-based learning activities.  In the article More Fun Than a Bucket of… Worms?!, one student states, “If you find it yourself, it stays in your brain.”  The cross-discipline learning fosters an acquisition and transfer of knowledge in a setting that is most similar to the real world that students will be living and working in.

In my own education, I can remember two distinct time when my teachers constructed highly engaging projects for us.  These projects were not as advanced technologically as they are now, and we didn’t have student-determined questions which drove research, but the ideas are early PBL. In 7th grade, my math teacher created a project around the Indianapolis 500, where we were all assigned a driver and we watched the race and used data from our driver to calculate averages, means, modes, and average miles per hour over different periods of the race.  We determined the average length of pit-stops for our racer as well as the lifetime duration of tires.  In high school, I participated twice in novel study projects.  In both projects, books were chosen based off of a certain topic.  We, as a group, read the books and discussed their meanings and connections to our lives.  We then participated in a week-long trip where we met with any of the authors that we could and participated in events from the books. One trip was to the Pendleton Round Up (focus on Cowboy Poetry) and the other was to Whitefish, Montana to fly-fish and participate in a writing workshop with David James Duncan, author of The River Why.  Upon returning from our trips, we held a culminating presentation from our community where we showcased the authors’ and our own works.  I have been graduated from high school for 15 years and remember these moments of learning clearly, which supports the idea that project-based learning creates a knowledge understanding that far outweighs traditional teaching and learning.

I am looking forward to adding more project-based learning into my classroom during the 2014-2015 school year and subsequent years.  As my skills as a PBL faciliator strengthen, I hope to have my students use technology to collaborate with classrooms in our school, in our nation, and internationally.  Upon researching project-based learning, it is clear that it is a highly engaging and successful method of teaching and learning.

Armstrong, S. (2002, February 11). Geometry Students Angle into Architecture Through Project Learning. [web post]. Retrieved from
Curtis, D. (2001, October 1).  More Fun Than a Barrel of… Worms?! [web post]  Retrieved from
Edutopia (2002, October 19). What is Project-Based Learning About? [web post]. Retrieved from


Digital Boards

Screenshot 2014-06-22 09.06.04

In Kindergarten, CCSS W.K.1 is to use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to share an opinion.  CCSS W.K.7 is to participate in shared research projects.  I created my digital board Kids’ Lives Around the USA** to combine these two standards into one project that will teach kids about life outside of our small and sometimes isolated community.  The board teaches about rural, urban, and island life and contains an embedded Discovery Education video as well as two outside links to Time for Kids and PBS Kids.  This board is designed to be an introduction and facilitate a discussion about what life is like in different parts of The United States.

This board begins to teach students to use their respectful and ethical minds in the most basic sense.  These minds work to “understand and work with those who are different” and to “work towards good citizenship” (Gardner, pp. 157-158) respectively.  After each section, I talk with my students and publicly process their ideas about that area of the US.  They have an opportunity to share with the class anything additional they may know about the region.  At the end, the assignment has 3 parts.  Part 1 is to talk with their buddy about where they would like to live.  This also leads into practicing their respectful minds as they don’t have to agree with their buddy, but they need to listen to respect the other’s opinion.  Second, they click on the link and take a one question survey telling where they’d like to live.  Through iPads or through use of the teacher’s computer, all kids will take the survey.  This will give us class data that will lead to further discussions.  I added that we would talk about the results after we write our opinions because I didn’t want students to change their opinions after seeing that their choice was not as popular as another.  The third task is to use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to state their opinion and provide support.  After all kids have finished, we will go over the results of our survey and share some student created writing about each region.  When teaching about opinion, we talk a lot about how you don’t have to agree with someone else’s opinion, but you must be willing to listen to it and think about this.  This will provide practice in that and strengthen the ethical mind.

It is important that we start students building and strengthening their respectful and ethical minds at a young age.  Just like with anything else, practice makes permanent, and the sooner we have kids thinking about their roles and how they relate to the local and global communities, the sooner it will become a habit of mind.  In Kindergarten, we can start by learning about the diversity in our local community and in our nation.  As kids progress though the grades, that view can be expanded more globally.

Of course, in Kindergarten, digital boards such as this are highly teacher created and teacher led, especially as I had a hard time finding grade- and age-level appropriate media.  However, as students progress through the years, they will be able to create and utilize these types of boards independently or in collaborative groups (which would also promote the respectful mind.)  At my school, the third grade classes create a wax museum where students research and become a famous person in history.  During the museum, they become wax statues of the person they chose and come alive when a passerby taps a button on their hand.  The fifth grade does state reports and holds a State Fair, teaching others about the chosen state.  The addition of digital boards would increase engagement and encourage kids to work collaboratively when their historical persona or state project topics overlap.  They would also provide more media options to teach others about their given topic.

I chose to use Discovery Education’s Board Builder because I wanted to learn to utilize more aspects of my Discovery Education account.  It was easy to use, but lacked tools I like, including the ability to embed outside sources and to create hyperlinks.  Glogster is another board building site that allows for more creativity and technology options.  Thinglink also provides some good tools.  I created a science board about trees using Thinglink that you can find here.

**Please note that a subscription to Discovery Education may be required to access this board.

Gardner, H. (2008). Five Minds for the Future. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press.


Video Blogs and the Five Minds

I have learned a lot in my Digital Media in the Classroom course about technology integration in education by both students and educators.  This week, I realized with my latest assignment that video blogs are not my favorite.  Especially when given a time limit (sorry for going 10 seconds over – I couldn’t help it.)  I find it much easier to be able to type and edit my words in written form than to video them.  I like that I can go back at a later point and focus my work before publishing.  This can be accomplished with video blogs, but in my case, not as easily.  I rarely have a hard time talking… except for when a camera is on me.  I say “um” a lot; something I don’t do in normal dialogue.  I suppose, that like all things, it’ll take more practice.

This video blog is 2 minutes on how I plan on continuing to develop my five minds as discussed in Howard Gardner’s book 5 Minds for the Future.  It’s a great book that everyone should read if you plan on succeeding in your workplace or society in general.

Buddy Classes

The last two minds in 5 Minds for the Future are the responsible and ethical minds (Gardner.)  To me, these minds are the most important simply because of how connected and global our societies are becoming.  Technology has brought the world to us.  Businesses no longer need to jump on a plane and fly to have a meeting in Paris or Tokyo.  We can log on and have a video conference instantaneously.  Even if we are the most disciplined in our field or have the most creative product, if we are not respectful and ethical across cultures (be it around the world or across town), we won’t get very far.

Gardner characterizes the respectful mind as one that “seeks to understand and works collectively with peers… no matter what their background and viewpoints” (p. 157).  The ethical mind “strives towards good work and good citizenship” (p. 158).  Together, these two minds work towards a common understanding: to be successful now and in the future, one must find a way to work collaboratively with whomever is in their group.  Although many think the internet causes us to work independently (from home instead of an office or on one computer instead of around a table) the opposite is quite true.  Technology is allowing us to work with anyone, no matter where they are.

In a video interview, Vicki Davis, who has co-created The Flat Classroom Project, says that building these skills in both teachers and students comes “one day at a time.”  We cannot just turn on a computer and expect students to work collaboratively and respectfully.  But, as Gardner also explains, at school, “students are engaged in their first work experiences” (Gardner p.142) while at school and it’s the teachers responsibility to mold and demonstrate this global work ethic.

I have not (yet) had the opportunity to work on a project like the Flat Classroom, but on a much smaller scale, students in my classroom have been working on developing these two minds in a face-to-face project:  Buddy Class.  My kindergarten class has paired up with a 4th grade class this year to be buddies, much in the style of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.  We have teamed the kids up in pairs or triads and get together weekly to work on reading and writing skills.  Students in both grades have had to learn about each other personally to create a bond that helps them work together academically.  For some, that bond happened right away.  For others, who may have had to bridge language or social skill barriers, it took a while.  The 4th graders have learned to change the words they use and the speed at which they work to accommodate the kindergarteners.  They’ve worked on being a role model for the kinders, to help them become better students, representing the ethical mind of creating a good community.  Kinder students have learned the importance of responsibility with their attendance.  They’ve learned that their buddy will be waiting for them every Wednesday at 1:30 and for some, they’ve learned that not showing up to school that day has a negative effect on their relationship.  To the kindergarteners, there is a certain awe that comes with seeing “the big kids.”  They are learning, through example and reflection, the work ethic that comes along with being a student at our school.  Some have even mentioned that they cannot wait to be 4th graders so that they can have a little buddy.  By all accounts, this is the “good work” (p. 128) that Gardner points out, as it is high quality, responsible, and engaging them towards a better community at our school.

In the future, I hope to participate in global projects using technology through programs such as Flat Classroom.  I have created global classroom fundraisers for Heifer International, but that was purely one-sided and not collaborative.  It will take time for me to figure out, as a teacher, what this will look like in a kindergarten classroom, but, like Vicki Davis says, I’ll take it one day at a time.

Gardner, H. (2008). Five Minds for the Future. Boston, Ma: Harvard Business Press.

Juliani, AJ. (2013, March 11). “Flattening classrooms and engaging minds” with global education: An interview with Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay. [blog] Retrieved from


Smore Spotlight on Strategies

Smore is an extremely user-friendly website for both teachers and students to use in the classroom.  Essentially it creates an online flyer that you can manipulate by adding text, images, videos, and links (amongst other things.)  Users can choose from a variety of templates or create a page from scratch.  Adding images was as easy as dragging and dropping into the correct box.  To rearrange the page, users click on the area they’d like to move and drag it to its new location.  It is similar to create a webpage, without having to actually own a blog or page domain.

My Smore is based around the CCSS idea of “close reading.”  I created my page as a professional development tool for other teachers in my building, especially those teaching K-1, who lack resources and rich texts for close reading.  Aside from using pictures of my own strategies and linking to resources, I was able to embed a Vimeo video of another teacher’s close reading lesson.  Even if this video doesn’t directly show a method or teaching style that I use, it is a way to get the ideas flowing about what it does (and will in the future) look like in my room.

Students with basic technology skills would be able to use Smore very easily.  Using this form of digital media will not only increase engagement, but can be used as a summative assessment (with a rubric to score it – make one here) at the end of a unit to gauge students’ understandings.  Students can work independently or in groups to work on a project about a skill, science experiment, or social studies topic.  It is not a live, collaborative document, however, so students working in teams will need to use one computer.  These documents can be edited at any time.  Students can create one as the topic is introduced stating what they know (similar to the K on a K-W-L chart) and create boxes for what they want to learn.  Then, as the unit continues, students have an outline and a place to add their learning.  In the end, both students and teachers will have a creative document demonstrating the student’s knowledge.

You can check out my Smore on close reading here.

When are Students Creative?

The students in my room have determined that they are the most creative during recess and during Friday Free Choice.  Academically, they are the most creative in math.  Based on our curriculum and what I know of my kids, neither of these answers surprise me.

Every day after recess, my five and six-year old students share with me the stories of what they did while they were outside.  They create variations on Tag, pretend to be superheroes, princesses, and fish, and make up other games.  They get the wild ideas to try to go across the monkey bars backwards or while spinning in a circle on each bar.  During this time, they are unrestricted and free to play like the little kids that they are. The same is true for free choice time.  Shortly after pulling out a bin of dinosaurs, puppets, cars (and the city map rug that goes along with it), polydrons, or blank paper and crayons, the kids are creating again.  They organize their own play and create both independently and as part of a group.  They make sound effects, solve problems, and tell stories to one another.  They are engineers when they build castles and farms out of blocks.

It is no surprise that kids feel more creative in math than reading.  Our math curriculum and best practices support creativity.  Through the use of our Habits of Mind and Habits of Interaction and purposeful questioning, students create their own understandings of math, building number sense, patterns, and problem solving strategies.  They are encouraged to find multiple ways to do something and have to explain their thinking to one another.  In Kindergarten, kids learn to read and write, which is a huge accomplishment and a creative process, but when we talked about it, the kids didn’t think it was.  Our current reading doesn’t inspire creativity in them; it’s procedure and fact around the grammar rules of English.

When I put our two iPads in front of the kids and asked them how they thought we could use them to be more creative in our learning, they talked about watching videos.  Unsurprisingly, they didn’t think that they could create their own digital content.  The students in my class have very little access to technology, with all of them coming from very low socioeconomic homes.   As our district completes our digital conversion, it is apparent to me that I will need to find ways to incorporate digital media and technology into the lives of my students so that students know that they can create through another medium.  We can start with student-friendly web-based applications and move on to creating paper slide videos.  I’m anticipating that most digital content created will be a whole class activity, as opposed to students working in independent groups.  There are a lot of prerequisite skills needed (technologically, academically, and socially) before students can work in independent groups.  However, like all things in kindergarten, it’s a starting point for more complex skills in older grades.  My job will be to introduce and practice these basic skills to my students, allowing them to be creative in all subjects, not just math and free time.