Project Based Learning: Paper Rules

This post is part of a larger series based beginning Project Based Learning (PBL) in the classroom. You can find the original post here. 

This is all about paper. Seriously. 

When we think about project based learning our minds tend to wander to grandiose ideas and concepts.  Stop. Don't start too big. Make it simple. Start with paper. 

Whether it's with loose leaf, a notebook, or a prearranged PBL; start by having the kids use paper.  Project based learning is about the research, collaboration, creating, and problem-solving which can all be completed effectively with paper.  All the ideas that are generated need to be written down first.  Side note: I'm referring more to elementary students, but I'd argue this is for all age levels (including the workforce). When we physically write out our ideas and work, we remember more, connect, and expand. 

Time and Prep Limitations
We have limited time, budgets, and resources. Creating extravagant classroom set-ups for project based learning (or any lesson) can be difficult without time and budgets. You’ve heard me preach that the simplest way is the best way. That's why my go-to PBLs revolve around paper. Paper is easy, simple, and fast. Paper doesn’t require me to hit up the Target One Spot and spend a hundred bucks. Paper is effective.


-Butcher block laid across a table for all the kids to write on.
-Anchor charts created by classrooms.
-Notebook filled with ideas. 


Paper, Paper, Paper
And when I say paper, I’m not just talking about standing around the copy machine making worksheets. Be creative with the types you use (while making it simple). Personally, I LOVE boxes with cardboard paper. But you might just love something else. 


Many times I want to jump straight into the technology portion, but reality sets in (which is failure) because I didn't scaffold my lessons by having them write/create/design enough early one using paper variations.

It Might Be All You Need
Once students ( or teachers, or you) feel like they've successfully completed the paper-route, that's when you can pull in the extension activities and adaptations that push project based learning into the next level. Sometimes that involves moving into technology and sometimes it won't. 

There are many PBL's that will stay grounded using paper...and that's okay (I sound like Stuart Smally).  You can still create a meaningful lesson filled with intrigue and wonder. Remember that's its not about the cool tools, it's about the teaching.

I tend to use the paper route with my students because of the type of classroom I run.  I've found it to be easier for organizing, allowing students to work at their own pace, and creating and anytime/any place (since I print the entire projects as booklets). 

The Design A Theme Park (seen above) is used almost entirely using paper because of the emphasis on designing rides, mapping, blueprints, and marketing.  

Don't Overthink
We spend too much time overthinking how to make something grand. I'm guilty of it. Make it easier and more effective for students (and yourself).  

If you think Project Based Learning is something you'd like to try, but don't know where to begin, read about my 10 Tips to Begin or go see some of my original creations by clicking the image below.







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Shark Week. There's Something In The Water.



Welcome to the Shark Week Blog hop.  Shark Week is the perfect summer time snack for you or students because to learn a bit about all kind of sharks around the world. You can follow this hop around in a circle or just click on any blog at the bottom. Take your time wading through all these blogs, as you'll find many shark-related classroom resources that are completely free (that's a lot of chum). 

Kids love learning about sharks.  Sharks are mysterious and misunderstood creatures, but once students begin researching/learning about ALL the different types, along with amazing facts...they are hooked.  Just like everything, we (and kids) get hooked on the headlines: shark attacks! That's great to start, but students really like digging deep and finding the unbelievable facts and seeing how much more there is to these magnificent beasts. Seeing students learn about the misconceptions of these animals and understand them better is a great thing.

My students like to mix up their reading, research, and problem-solving by using sharks as the central theme for project based learning.  They research where they live and how they survive, along with understanding why their populations are decreasing. Using the PBL model for learning about sharks activity gives students a chance to learn at their own pace and use multiple forms of learning from books, internet, videos, and even the good-old Discovery Channel.


Now, swim on over to the amazing Greg at Kindergarten Smorgasbord! He's next on this food chain of dorsal fins and classroom resource freebies. GO THERE NOW!








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Photo Apps for the Classroom


We live in a great big world of pictures. And those pictures need to be edited. Below are five of my favorite apps to use in the classroom (or at home) for editing photos.  Check them out below because there's something for everyone.


Color Story is all about playing with lighting to see what kind of final picture you can make. There's lots of choices, each adjustable, to see what works the best. The only downside is that many add-ons cost extra, but don't let that bother you because there's still plenty of options included.

Dynamic Light is a fun little app that allows users to play with all kinds of lighting features, allows you to change shadowing, and blow out the photo with color.  This app is simple and quick to learn and use. 


Phonto is an unassuming app that can layer text and graphics on top of your photos with ease and quickness. There's not a lot of bells and whistles, it's not an overly slick design--but the app works well.

ColorStrokes does one thing (and it does it well); easily letting you add or subtract colors from your photos. This app works well and is easy to understand, while letting you create focal points in your pictures. It's simple, effective, and fun.


Here's a photo my daughter took of our cat, Rocket.  She went in and edited herself, adding the colors back and putting some textures over the top.   


Over let's users add a variety of overlays like text and graphics. This app works well and is easy to navigate. They've done some great upgrades too, allowing users to grab a collection of free photos to make inspirational quotes.



Cat Paint might be last on my list, but it's the pick of the litter. This app claws into my heart with the simple ability to add cats to photos. You won't have to sneak over to the crazy cat lady's house anymore. Not only can you add cats, you can apply lasers to their eyes with explosions. Just look at this incredible creation!




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STEM Apps for the Classroom

STEMSTEMSTEMSTEMSTEMSTEMSTEM. SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, AND MATH. STEM is everywhere these days...YES!  If you're looking (and I hope you are) to add more STEM activities to you classroom, check out some of my favorite apps I use in the classroom.

Monster Physics lets the user build and design working machines of all shapes and sizes, then test out their designs.  "Inventing" is the key word and it give you lots of items to build with. There's also missions to go on with hands-on feel while learning and following tutorials.  This is a must-have for kids that like to build.



Project Noah allows you to capture nature in your surroundings and share it with others around the world.  Users become scientists as they take photos on plants and animal, which can then be uploaded to the app for others to see and identify.  Think of it as a Pinterest for nature.  It's simple to use and great for individual users or an entire classroom.  Besides the photos (known as spotting), there are missions and field guides for users to use and participate in. Project Noah website.

Lightbot Hour is all about coding that plays as a game, giving students an introduction into programming.  The game pushes kids to think procedurally and logically when solving each stage.  This game can be rigorous, but it's effective in teaching kids to think differently.



Google Earth is a classic, but it cannot be overlooked. As years have passes, I kind of get the feeling that map skills and geography are lacking in school. Part of the reason is because our technology has made it so easy for us to travel from place to place without really knowing where we're going (and this is not a complaint).  Google Earth changes all that.  The students need to use it and dig into it.  In fact, we all need to use it.

Your kids might be addicted, but you still can't go wrong with Minecraft.  I'm not talking absolute free reign (in school), but give kids parameters.  Tell them they must perform tasks like building a house, designing a railroad, or even building a zoo.  If you have multiple devices you can ask students to work collaboratively on projects.  I sound like a broken record, but with Minecraft--there are endless possibilities.  Just watch out for the zombies.

Angry Birds is another game that fits nicely into STEM.  I know, you might not want your students playing games, but use Angry Birds as an opportunity to take the game skills (problem solving and building/design) and create their own versions in real life. Allow the students to turn their game into real world puzzles by designing levels, focusing on architecture and engineering.

This is just a small sampling of apps that can used to promote a STEM environment in your classroom or with your kids (students).  Just make sure that you play them yourselves, otherwise you'll never get them back once the kids get them.








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