8 Essentials of Project Based Learning

Last weekend I attended my first Ed Camp (#EdCampQC on Twitter) at Hawk Ridge Elementary School in Charlotte, NC.  It was a powerful learning experience for me.  I enjoy traditional presentations in a regular conference format, but I now can see the reason why Ed Camps have become so popular.  We gathered in classrooms to hear teachers share their ideas and crowdsource ways to be an effective teacher to our 21st century learners.  I experienced conversations about MakerSpaces, Literacy in Technology, Genius Hour and Blended Learning. All of the ideas that I heard revealed how essential it is to inspire and nurture learning, creativity, and innovation through technology in elementary schools.

After being on Twitter for the past two years and building my Professional Learning Network, it thrilled me to get to meet at Ed Camp some of the members of my Twitter PLN such as Steven Weber (@curriculumblog), Stacy Lovdahl (@braveneutrino), Ashley Hurley (@ashleyhhurley), Jennifer Brinn (@Jenn_TeachLearn) and Nathan Stevens (@nathan_stevens) to name a few.  I have appreciated the contributions of these people through Twitter Chats or on Voxer.  Knowing that educators in North Carolina were willing to volunteer to learn from each other on a Saturday, even driving through snow and black ice, made the Ed Camp experience extra special.  

I heard Troy Moore, the principal at Hawk Ridge Elementary School, share how they are having kids pursue their passions as a part of Genius Hour which they do during the first hour of the school day.  One of my favorite examples was that of two boys who interview teachers and community members including sports figures and create Podcasts because they love Sports Casting!   I love that student ownership is a huge part of the culture of Hawk Ridge Elementary School where teachers have bought into the idea of allowing time and creative space for students to flourish.  Troy Moore (@HRESPrincipal) generously opened his school for teachers to see including a Project Based Learning space that was recently sponsored by the restaurant called Chili’s.  Teachers teach their students how to calculate tips in a restaurant setting within the school using percentages.  Other creative learning spaces included a classroom with mobile furniture that can be situated to best meet the needs of the learners.  Being at Hawk Ridge Elementary School helped me to understand why they have recently ranked 9th in the USA among other outstanding Elementary Schools.

In my role as the K-5 Technology Teacher, I am always contemplating ways to encourage my students to become engaged in the learning process.  I have also begun to realize the power of the process of PBL or Project Based Learning.  I recently heard Mike Gormans (@mjgormans on Twitter) in a webinar as a part of my monthly PBS LearningMedia trainings right on the heels of my experience at EdCamp.  He encouraged us to think about using the Eight Essential Components of Project Based Learning which helped me put together the ideas that were swimming in my head from Ed Camp.  Providing students with meaningful projects means that I need to incorporate the following eight components as published by the Buck Institute at http://bie.org/object/document/8_essentials_for_project_based_learning:  significant content, a need to know, a driving question, student voice and choice, 21st Century Competencies, in-depth Inquiry, critique and revision and a public audience.

I love the idea of new technology options to help me engage my students.  Students need opportunities to tinker, learn to code and create projects as a part of Project Based Learning (PBL).  They also need materials with which to build and to code.  I will describe in this post two possible technology tools to use when designing lessons for Project Based Learning: Sphero Robot Balls and Lego Storymaker Kits/Software.  I have written a grant for 12 Sphero Balls and Lego Storymaker Kits and hope to have it funded so I can implement a variety of lessons for my 2nd – 5th Graders.

Students in my school have participated in the worldwide Hour of Code for the past two Decembers using resources at www.code.org.  I would like for students to have the ability to write the code to see a three dimensional object follow their commands.  The resources at code.org have been a good foundation for my students along with apps such as Daisy the Dinosaur and Legos Mindstorms Fix the Factory, however, I would like to provide additional real world opportunities to create code.  Students would work together to develop commands for the Sphero balls and cause them to run through mazes using coding apps on the iPads.  I would like to have students think like a computer programmer and articulate the process of coding the Sphero balls.  Learning to code Sphero balls will allow students to work in teams to build Sphero chariots that they will maneuver through mazes using iPads, communicate their results in writing and in revising their work through trial and error.  They will need to critically think as they problem solve and program the Spheros.  At the NCTIES PreConference on March 4, I am looking forward to learning how to program Sphero balls while collaborating with other teachers.

Students will communicate with small groups as they build Lego Story Scenes using the kits.  They will build their scenes in groups of three and decide on the plot of the story, characters, setting, etc. using special spinners to help guide their thought process.  Children in schools need opportunities to build and make which leads in this case to detailed stories and end products.  The process is just as important as the end product.

The Sphero robotics ball project is innovative because it will provide a way for students to see what it feels like to be a coder/computer programmer.  There will be a shortage of computer programmers in the next 10 years according to recent data published at https://www.kodable.com/infographic.  Schools must excite students at an early age to learn to code in an inviting fashion.  Getting to work in collaboration with other students to make a Sphero Chariot go through a maze will allow students to problem solve using a Driving Question.  There are math apps that I will also use to provide lessons using the Sphero balls found at http://www.gosphero.com/education/.

The Legos Storymaker project is innovative because it provides a way for students to design a beginning, middle and end of a story using Lego scenes then write about their stories.  Students will be developing narratives and writing text to go along with scenes from the their Lego story settings.  They will publish the narratives in creative ways through Newspapers and Posters.  Visit this link to see examples of Lego Storymaker final products:  https://shop.education.lego.com/legoed/en-US/catalog/product.jsp?productId=5003448

In my role as the K-5 Technology Teacher at my school, I love to engage my students using innovative apps and projects that require researching and development of digital stories.  The Sphero and Lego Storymaker Projects will allow me to take my students into deep thinking projects where in order to succeed, they will have to communicate thoughts verbally and in writing, collaborate in teams, critically think as they brainstorm solutions and develop digital stories after building with Legos, and create projects that will be an authentic way to show the world that they are 21st Century Learners.

How have you used Project Based Learning?  I would love to hear your thoughts!

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