This year one of my goals was to incorporate more authentic project based learning opportunities into my instruction. I tried in years past to facilitate some of these learning experiences for my students, but I was always left feeling overwhelmed and intimidated.
To gain some additional knowledge and insight into project based learning, I decided to read Hacking PBL, by Erin Murphy and Ross Cooper. Knowing that reading this book during the school year would be "just another thing," I decided to do a summer book study with my friend and colleague, Abbie Will. I highly recommend this route for reading a professional text during the school year or summer! It held us accountable and kept us motivated! This year I moved from first grade to second, so looking at some new content standards was the perfect place to think about implementing some PBL opportunities. After reading Hacking PBL and looking at my standards, my gears started turning. I tried to group my content standards into large bundles that naturally went together. Fortunately, I have a teammate, Tim Rundle, who is also interested in PBL, so collaborating made the planning and implementation process much easier!
About the Project
We decided to begin with hitting standards that focused on geography and maps. We did some research on different projects and products and decided to do a Travel Agency PBL Unit. Our vision was that students would work in groups and become travel agents. They would work together to create an imaginary destination and resources (brochures, maps, commercials, etc.) for that destination. At the end of the project, they would have to "sell" their destination at the 2017 Travel Agency Expo (in our classroom). Parents and other students would visit our expo and vote on their favorite destination. The winning team would be the "Best Travel Agency of 2017."
A tool that I felt was tremendously helpful was Ross Cooper's PBL Planning Form. It really helped us outline what we wanted the project to accomplish and exactly how we (and the kids) were going to do it. Because this was our first go at PBL we provided more direct instruction and guidance than I would like to going forward. To start we gave our students some background knowledge on different landforms, map features, and geographical terminology. For this step, Google Maps and our Apple TV were great tools to allow students to explore different areas and get a better understanding of landforms and maps. Next, we told our students about the project and put them in groups. We gave them different brochures and maps to explore with their group members and started having them jot down some "essentials" that would need to be in their product. The students especially loved getting to explore digital brochures on iPads. From there, it was their job to choose a destination and a product.
There were a few things all groups had to have in their products to ensure our students were hitting standards. Most students chose to do a commercial with a green screen. While making a commercial may not sound overly educational, I can assure you these students hit the same standards as the students who created a brochure. The students who chose the brochure wrote it and formatted it on my MacBook Air as a group. All students had to include a persuasive piece of writing that told travelers why they should visit, they all had to write or talk about any landforms or resources in their destination, and they had to tell travelers about the weather and what to pack. Finally, they all had to have a tangible map, even the commercial group. While some groups included their items in their brochure in writing, the commercial group included theirs in their script and then created a map to pass out.
We had three days for our expo- a parent day and two student days. We created a sign up sheet using a Google Doc and sent it out to teachers to choose a time slot. Students set up booths in our classrooms and visitors circulated between Mr. Rundle's room and my own. The brochure groups had printed brochures to hand out to visitors and the commercial group had an IPad to view their video along with maps to pass out. We quickly learned that our 15 minute slots were not nearly long enough! Overall I felt like the expo was a huge success! I was so impressed with our students' persistence and collaboration and best of all- so were they!
Many teachers ask "Why PBL?" I will tell you my why. First and foremost, my kids love it. They were so excited to work on their projects every day! It incorporates the 4 Cs. Students are regularly communicating, collaborating, and thinking creatively and critically to solve problems and work through their project. PBL incorporates technology in meaningful ways. Students are able to integrate technology in their projects and do things that they could not do otherwise. It gives students voice and choice. My students were more engaged and working harder than ever because they got to make decisions about their learning. It lends itself to a ton of cross curricular connections. Our project hit a plethora of social studies, writing, and reading standards in a meaningful way! Finally, PBL gives students authentic learning opportunities. In our case, students had an authentic audience to share their work, which motivated them even more.
I am excited begin planning and facilitating our next PBL unit! Please comment below with questions or your own PBL pearls of wisdom!