Project Based Learning: Start Small and Find Your Comfort Zone



This post is part of a larger series based on beginning Project Based Learning (PBL) in the classroom.  You can find the original post here. This post focuses on Starting Small & Finding Your Comfort Zone.


Start Small To Find Your Comfort Zone

When it comes to PBL in your class—do what makes you most comfortable. This might mean beginning with a small project or just a sample with your students. No one knows your classroom better than you and no one knows your teaching better than you. Don’t worry about scale, length of time, and complexity. Just start small and find your comfort zone.

Project based learning can be overwhelming. I mean, just the term project can strike fear into any teacher, student, or parent. Projects normally mean they’ll be completed at home. This means a lot of stalling and procrastination until the last minute. Maybe…if you’re lucky…your mom will do your bug or flower collection for you. I was. Thanks, mom.

Comfort Zones Matter 

Think about what kind of comfort zone will work for your classroom and beginning PBLs. Be proactive in this idea and design the best working environment for you and your students.
-Will it be a class project?
-Will they work in groups?
-What will work best for my class?
-Do I want my kids to have a total free for all?

You are your best critic when it comes to this, so take a little time and think proactively on what will fit in your comfort zone. Be proactive in your self-preservation.

Starting Small Doesn’t Mean Doing Less

You don’t have to reinvent the wheel when you choose project based learning. Starting small means you’re working within a comfort zone that’s appropriate for you and your students. Starting small is just good business. It’ll give you an idea of where your students are, how they work together, figuring out what will work (and what won’t).

Sometimes I’ll take a small piece of a PBL and test it on my students, see how they react, and make adjustments. Do Simple Better.

What Does Starting Small Look Like?
Sometimes it’s as simple as writing a driving question on the board for your students or asking what they feel are important issues that need to be discussed.
-How can we limit the amount of food being thrown away in the lunchroom?
-How could we raise awareness for a specific interest?
-How could the county improve it's recycling program?

I prefer a single sheet of blank drawing paper and ask the students to draw an invention that will help save the world. I LOVE visuals and think they’re one of the most important parts with PBL’s. Then kids explain why and what they did. Quick, easy, and effective.

Sometimes its a team building game. 
One of my favorite games is to see teams of students play a River Crossing in P.E. Teams are given 8-10 items that can be used to help everyone cross a “river” (normally a section of the gym floor) together. All member must make it across and none can touch the ground. It takes problem solving, creativity, team work, patience, and gives teachers a chance to see how everyone reacts. This might not seem like a logical way to introduce PBL, but it’s effective because it’s a metaphor for what they’ll be facing in the classroom. 

Other Options For Starting Small
Another option is to take the topic that you liked (from the previous post) and introduce it to the students. Ask for their feedback and see if it jumpstarts more ideas (because it will).

I’ve found it very effective to create PBL activities that are straightforward in completing the project/solving the problem, but also allow for all kids to independently make their own choices along the way. I ask my kids to design their own ski resort, which is mind-blowing for them at the beginning—but we work through the process together. See it here. 
These self-contained PBL’s allow teachers to have a controlled framework and also allows students the independence when it comes to their level of learning.
Find What Works For You
It’ll take a little practice to find what works best for you and your class. Creating and sustaining a PBL atmosphere in your classroom requires you to find what’s most comfortable. The worst part is realizing you’ve begun something that won’t be finished—because that’s happened to me before. By that time, I've lost it.

Whatever you do, take the plunge and give project based learning a chance in your classroom. Sure, it might be a little nerve wracking, but you’ll find your zone and your students will love it. And then you won’t be able to stop.








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Project Based Learning: Picking A Topic You Like



This post is part of a larger series based on beginning Project Based Learning (PBL) in the classroom. You can find the original post here. This post focuses on the importance of picking topics you like. 

Picking a Topic You Like
If you’re excited about a topic, there’s a pretty good chance your students will be too. That’s why I suggest finding a topic you really like. Maybe you want to do something that involves animals or building/designing a city. Whatever it is, make sure you’re invested. Your students will follow you.

Why It's Important
Normally you’d hear people say “do what’s best for the kids,” but when it comes to getting started with PBLs (which could be a completely new concept) it’ll be important to choose topics that you like. REMEMBER: we are just like kids…we need to be engaged! Choose something you are invested in! This is not anti-student, it’s just pro-teacher. Picking something you like is a smart business for your classroom.

How Do I Pick A Topic?

I pick PBL topics two very different ways: 
1. I start with a standard or lesson.  
2. I start with an interest I have.  

These are two distinct differences, but both ways can help you achieve PBL success in your class. It just depends on what you feel most comfortable with.

Starting with a Standard
The standard is the end goal, so I have to work backwards.  From there, I tend to think of how this goal is applied into my everyday life.  Money, fractions, and geometry are some of the easiest to think about because we have them in our lives all the time. I ask myself, "what real life situation could this be applied too?"  

When I start with a standard I tend to feel like my PBL's will be much more contained (in size) because I know end goal.  Starting this way can be helpful because you get to start small, but that is a separate topic.


The first full PBL I created focused on designing a zoo, BUT it began with a focus on AREA and PERIMETER. Even though it takes planning skills, rough drafts, and more --the foundation is rooted in area and perimeter.  Once I had the standard I had to think of how kids could create a project that showed their complete understanding of the concept. So I went with a zoo.

Why a zoo? I’ve loved them since I was a kid. I wanted to be a zookeeper growing up. So I decided students were going to make a zoo. Quickly, I realized area and perimeter were going to be the key learning standard within this project. And the rest is history. Now my students design zoos every year and showcase their understanding of area and perimeter.

Starting with a Interest
Recently I had the idea that I wanted to do something with camping. So I started there and worked forward, thinking of goals they'd need to work towards. Typically, these PBL's tend to be more open-ended and hit a variety of standards and goals.  By the end of the camping  PBL, I realized I had my students taking nature walks, designing a campsite, and problem solving multiple situations. When it was all done, I had Let's Go Camping.

Starting with an interest is important because you're more likely to bring in issues that might not necessarily begin with an academic.  Maybe it's about building the community, learning about another culture, or raising awareness.  The end goal isn't math or reading, rather real-world immersion and/or problem solving.  Math and reading don't need to be the focus all the time.


The end result of the Let's Go Camping PBL.
The question isn't "I can't".  
The question is, "How can I".
Ask yourself how you can turn this topic into a PBL opportunity. It's all about our mindset.

I’m thinking of actual topics you love and enjoy…like Starbucks.

Say you love Starbucks (because I love my coffee). Somehow you want to brings Starbucks into your classroom.  How would you do it? 
Immediately, I imagine the possibilities of making a coffee barista come alive in the classroom.
-Designing the layout and space
-Creating a menu
-Working the register
-Working on a Budget

None of these ideas are life-altering, but I can quickly begin to see how aspects of a coffee/coffee shop require academic skills/standards.

Be A Ten Year Old When It Comes to Topics

What would a 10 year-old me have wanted to do in school?
Animals, Adventure, Monster, Dinosaurs, Movies, Humor, Action...this list goes on and on.


This is how one of my goofier PBL's Shark Security Force came to fruition.  It's basically an A-team of sharks that travel around the world saving the world from evil-doers who want to destroy the oceanic environments. It's what I would have died for as a kid. I know it's goofy and silly, but it's pretty awesome and my students love it.






                                       


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Project Based Learning In Your Classroom


Project based learning has been a part of teaching forever. It’s nothing new, but we’ve seen a resurgence within the past few years and it's a buzzword we all like to use. I get quite a few questions from teachers asking how they can start and what they can try. 

That’s why I’ve put together some of my favorite tips for getting started and what to expect when you decide to take the plunge…and I think you should.  Sure, some of these might be simple, but they're worth repeating and thinking about.

Pick a Topic You Like
If you’re excited about a topic, there’s a pretty good chance your students will be too. That’s why I suggest finding a topic you really like. Maybe you want to do something that involves animals or building/designing a city. Whatever it is, make sure you’re invested. Your students will follow your lead. 
Full article here.

Start Small To Find Your Comfort Zone
When it comes to PBL in your class—do what makes you most comfortable. This might mean beginning with a small project or just a sample with your students. No one knows your classroom better than you and no one knows your teaching better than you. Don’t worry about scale, length of time, and complexity. Just start small and find your comfort zone. Full article here.


Paper Projects Are Excellent Options
Sometimes the best PBL only includes paper. Sometimes all the problem solving, designing, and hard work is contained on a couple of sheets of paper.  It can be simple.  Many of the PBLs I create use this paper-based frame work because it works well in the classroom.  Ease-of-use is your friend.

Students design a zoo using while focusing on area and perimeter. See It Here.
Use Materials You Already Have
Make it simple on yourself and focus on using classroom materials that are readily at your disposal. Do not go and buy the latest gadgets or drop a hundred bucks at Target. Most simple PBLs can be conquered with classroom items, a little ingenuity, and the recycle bin.

Let Go (of some control)
Ana and Elsa are correct—Let it go. You’ll have to give up some of the control. You can’t control every aspect of PBLs because each student (or group) will have different results. This doesn’t mean it’s classroom chaos—it just means we have to hand the reins over to the students. Let them learn how to learn.

Be Open-Ended With The Students
Many times students will want definitive answers for EVERYTHING! I tell my students that if they ask me what they can do (within a project) I will always say “YES”. I don't like to limit options and thinking. Too many times kids are told to hide their imagination inside (sadly)—not with PBL. 
This can be difficult concept for kids (which make sad), but we're working on it.

Share Awesome Ideas With Your Class When You See Or Hear One
When I walk around the room checking in (and spying) I hear and see the coolest things and thinking taking place. Those ideas need to be shared with everyone. All the kids need to hear about them because it'll spark other students' imagination. It might seem simple—but it works. Kids need to use each other as jumping-off points, without always having to rely on teachers.

A third grade class created an entire city using
only geometry skills, paper, glue, and scissors. 
Include All Levels Of Learners
Project Based Learning IS NOT just for talented and gifted students. It's for EVERYONE! In fact, I’d argue it’s just as important for lower leveled learners. Why is that, you ask? Well, many of our struggling learners have learned incredible strategies for staying afloat in the classroom. They apply these same strategies here and it works in an incredible way. These projects are incredible engagement tools for reluctant/hesitant learners.

Multimedia is the Best Hook
Videos, images, music, Netflix, YouTube--use them all. Show students the multiple avenues of ways to learn. These are all hooks for the students and they love them.

When my students build their ski resorts, I like to show them an 8 minute movie on ski resorts around the world. They are amazed and excited to start. When we learn about the rainforest I play an 11 hour loop of jungle sounds (found on Youtube). It’s filled with rain showers, buzzing bugs, monkeys playing the in trees.

Get Physically Comfortable When Working
Let students move wherever they need to in the classroom. Floor, tables, small groups. A quiet room means NO ONE is really learning/discussing/collaborating. I want my kids intermingling, sharing ideas, and stealing ideas to create better ones.


Those are some of my top tips for getting started. If you have questions, just let me know. Or if you’re a just a fan of PBLs, I’d love to hear what you do.  To see more just click the image below.






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So In Love With Books Giveaway

I'm teaming up with eleven excellent bloggers for book giveaway/blog hop/free things bonanza! We did it back in November and we're at it again! Read the entirety of this post to find out how you can WIN! 
My family has an affinity for dinosaurs and the How Do Dinosaurs Series is one of our favorites.  What better way to celebrate Valentine's Day than with dinos saying "I love you."  Even the T-rex can give you a hug with it's little baby arms.  The illustrations are excellent and the stories set the perfect tone for expected behaviors for any occasion in school, at home, and in life.
Grab my newest free poster set, Show Some Love!  It's a positive thinking poster set for the classroom, hallway, or bulletin board.

Before you leave don't forget to grab my number below! Each blogger has a number at the end of their post--you NEED to collect all the numbers along the way, add 'em all up, and enter the total number (use those addition skills) in the Rafflecopter for your chance to win all twelve books!
1. Read all the blogs.
2. Collect all the numbers.
3. Add all the numbers up and find the total.
4. Enter the Rafflecopter (include the total number) between January 17th and the 23rd.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Now--head on over to Tales From the First Grade and visit Abbie to see her book, freebie, and find out her number!




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12 Books of Christmas

I'm joining up with eleven other bloggers for the 12 Books of Christmas Blog Hop! You get a freebie that coincides with each book (from all of us), plus we are each giving away a copy of each book--which you could win!  Read the entirety of this post to find out how to WIN! Book list below...  
Maybe you want to try and win the books, maybe you just want to grab a bunch of freebies, or maybe you just need a new selection for your home or classroom.  It doesn't matter your motivation--just enjoy these blogs, like sharing a fine egg nog on Christmas Eve with your uncle. 
My family loves Rudolf.  We love the old stop-motion animation movie, so anything reindeer related is something my girls love and will always listen to and/or watch. I'm picking Olive, the Other Reindeer as my go-to book.  It's the classic case of an underdog (no pun intended), stopping at nothing to reach their goal.  Plus, it's a dog that wants to be a flying reindeer--so we can all relate. 
Don't forget to grab my freebie poster set, reminding students and teachers how important our actions  are.  This is themed around the term reindeer, and aims to remind students to be mindful of themselves, their actions, and awareness of others.  And honestly, there is no better time to practice. GRAB IT HERE or CLICK on the IMAGE.
Before you leave don't forget to grab my number below! Each blogger has a number at the end of their post--you NEED to collect all the numbers along the way, add 'em all up, and enter the total number (use those addition skills) in the Rafflecopter for your chance to win all twelve books!
1. Read all the blogs.
2. Collect all the numbers.
3. Add all the numbers up and find the total.
4. Enter the Rafflecopter (include the total number) between November 22-28.

Jump over to Saddle Up for 2nd Grade for another lucky number (if you need it).




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