by Dr. Nancy Betler
My next step was to discuss this idea with the teachers who I work with at my school. I wanted to get their insight and collaborate with them to help enhance my growth as well as student growth. The teachers I connected with were enthusiastic about trying this with our students. We planned how we would implement this active learning strategy during the next school year.
Over the summer I developed and adapted two Project Based Learning projects based on what I had found on the subject to use with my students. The initial project I started with was to have the students answer questions about a cupcake bakery in our project Cupcakes Configurations. After being introduced to the project with cupcakes students were required to work in groups and develop the best way to package cupcakes for transport. The students had to discuss potential problems when transporting cupcakes. They also had to make a list of possible solutions. They had to create and defend their model. They also had to discuss pricing and decide on a fair price. This was more complex and had more pieces than what we had done in the past. The teacher I was team teaching with and I were excited to get started with the students. We could not wait to see how they responded to this learning opportunity.
When the problem based learning questions were introduced during our math lesson the students were thrilled. There were leading questions and the students had to incorporate multiplication and division. They were allowed to work in pairs or groups of their choosing. The students began to work immediately and started to plan their strategies. This process was different for us as teachers since we had to let them plan rather than take our usual role of teaching the topic. We could guide but not give direct instructions on how they should answer or what they should produce. They had to be prepared to present to another class their final finding. We had to let the students be active learners and it was amazing!
The quality of their solutions and the models they created were fantastic. Students were able to incorporate technology as they presented using PowerPoint or their Gaggle accounts. Some students created video demonstrations, some created songs to get their points across and others developed full scale models. One student dressed as a giant cupcake to give her presentation. It was a positive process for all involved and the teacher that I was working with and I decided that this would not be the end of Project Based Learning for the school year. I wanted to work with the students and help them learn through there various learning styles. Not every child learns the same way and it is essential as an educator to make sure that the students have opportunities to learn in different frameworks. One student said that “this was the first time I felt that my project for an assignment was actually my project.”
Through collaboration with another teacher, we determined that we would also use Project Based Learning for another group of students. We decided to have the students solve the following problem based on our curriculum. We used a project that had already been developed and added to it. Students were told that the state fair would no longer be held at its current location. They were then told that the governor had chosen their team as the representative and event coordinator of their region. It was their job to convince the governor and his advisors (an unbiased group of students from your school) why the state fair should be held in their region. The students once again were allowed to pick their own groups and were guided through the process. We met with the students to confer and go over the question, their solutions and the rubric. The student projects were once again outstanding and incorporated different learning styles and the use of technology. The final step was that the students presented them to other students in our school. They presented with rave reviews. Project Based Learning definitely has helped my student develop the 21st century skills of critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity!
This October I will be presenting with another teacher, Melissa Mooney, about Project Based Learning at the North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators Conference. We will be sharing an overview of the process, tips, lessons and student projects. It is exciting to me that I am now considered an expert on this topic. My pedagogical knowledge has bloomed on this subject. During this school year I have grown professionally in response to the need of the students. The students needed to be challenged more and to be able to use this approach to teaching in which students explore real-world problems and challenges has really helped my students grow. Next year I plan to continue to integrate Project Based Learning into my instruction. I plan to refine what has already been created as well as create new ones.
To learn more about Project Based Learning and how it can be used to enrich learning experiences and engage learners, check out the archives of a recent #cmsk12chat, which I co-moderated with Joshua Lemere. The archive for our PBL-focused chat can be found here.
Dr. Nancy Betler is a Talent Development Teacher at Eastover Elementary and primarily works with gifted and high-ability students in grades K-5. As a National Board Certified Teacher, she fully embraces life-long learning and has recently earned her doctorate degree. Nancy is also heavily involved with the North Carolina Association of Elementary Educators (NCAEE) and serves as a Board Member. She looks forward to connecting with you on Twitter @nbetler and being a part of your PLN!