It was the third PBL experience of the school year and it was only the middle of October.
Our school, Waxpool Elementary in Ashburn Virginia, had opened in 2019 as a wall-to-wall PBL school. My 2nd grade class was launching their project with a trip to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. Upon returning to school, the students engaged in a conversation about what they noticed about the zoo and what efforts the National Zoo was taking to save the animals and their native habitats.
It wasn’t just a fun field trip; it was the beginning of the students’ quest to answer the driving question, "How can we, as Waxpool conservationists, convince others to advocate for the preservation of forests, rivers, streams, ponds and field habitats?"
Students spent about three weeks on sustained inquiry and building knowledge through research, plus collaboration, critical thinking, and creating. They worked in teams, choosing a habitat to research, brainstorming ways to preserve these habitats, and educating other Waxpool students on how they can help as well.
One girl, Zara, and her team decided on a plan called “Save a Pond.”
They collaborated on their public product, creating a poster about steps to protect the ponds in our area. Zara and all the other 2nd graders at Waxpool shared what they had learned about the local habitats and how to protect them in our “2nd Grade Nature Center,” visited by community members, teachers, and other students.
Fast forward through many more PBL experiences, a year cut short by a global pandemic, to the end of July…
Zara heard that family friends were involved in a hummingbird conservation project. She was very interested and read an article that featured this young group. It reminded her of the habitat project she had done in 2nd grade, and it did not take long for Zara to contact some of her closest friends, and the “Save-a-Pond Club” was created.
Zara was very familiar with Google Meets from our school’s emergency distance learning in the spring, and she decided this was the best way to communicate with the members of her club.
She began with a short video invitation that explained what the club was all about.
On July 30, the first Google Meet for the “Save-A-Pond Club” was arranged, with an agenda created by Zara to help them stay on task and keep organized. By the end of the first meeting, everyone had the job of researching nearby ponds to see if there was a pond in need of their help.
A 2nd grade teacher’s heart grew 3 sizes the day I received an email from Zara’s mom.
She told me what Zara had been up to and invited me to be a guest “expert” during their next Google Meet session. Needless to say, they did not have to ask me twice. I joined their meeting and was amazed how Zara conducted the meeting all on her own, with an agenda in hand. Members had to report on the different ponds that were researched. By the end of the meeting, I eagerly requested to become a member of the “Save-a-Pond” club and participated in the weekly meetings leading to the final event.
Then it was pond cleanup day! A pond was chosen, a date decided upon, and plans were made. Complete with masks, gloves, trash bags and “grabbers,” we were ready to put the club’s plan into action.
As a teacher, I was amazed with the conversations going on as we walked around the pond picking up various types of trash. Students were asking, What kind of trash were we finding? Why was there more trash in some spots and none in others? How did the trash get there? What animals did we notice in the pond habitat? Concern and disgust was quickly replaced with enthusiasm and pride as two huge trash bags were filled with items that did not belong in the Breezy Hill pond habitat.
Zara did not stop there.
After a short discussion, Zara and I decided it was important to take some time to reflect on this whole experience. Zara decided to create another video that shared her thoughts.
It was a deeper learning experience for all!
This truly was an amazing experience and I thank Zara for including me on this journey. So much discovery that originated in the classroom but did not stop there. Proof that PBL truly does create life-long learners!
Janine Bourscheid is beginning her 22nd year in the classroom. She discovered Project Based Learning five years ago and hasn’t looked back since.
Laura Rahn helped edit this post. She is a division instructional facilitator for Loudoun County Public Schools and a PBL workshop facilitator who works closely with Waxpool Elementary School to support teachers as they plan and implement projects.