students showing off their PBL projects

 

At the end of another school year, I thought it would be nice to hear about some successful projects—so we put the word out on social media, asking teachers to send us their stories. Here are seven highlights. Thanks to everyone who contacted me!


Ryan Kurada, Megan Hassur and Tammy Barksdale, K-1 teachers, University Elementary School, Rohnert Park, California:

(This is excerpted from a story in the local press about their project)

On May 9, University Elementary At La Fiesta School in Rohnert Park will host a “Jobs and Business Expo” – a culmination of over three months of work the kindergarten and first grade students completed to learn about careers and businesses in their community. While this is the third year that the school has hosted this event, this is the first time the community-at-large is invited and encouraged to come and participate. The learning on jobs and businesses covered not only social studies requirements, but also incorporated math, science, and language arts. 

To meet kindergarten standards of learning about jobs in the community, the students engaged in field trips to visit professionals in different types of work settings, interviewed presenters from different fields during classrooms visits, and completed other educational activities. They then put together all they learned for display at the expo.

 

Linda Amici, 5th grade teacher, Alcott Elementary School, Westerville, Ohio:

We worked on fostering appreciation of differences to promote a harmonious future by using sustained inquiry to discover features of other cultures far from us. We live in a community with many newcomers. We collaborated with a project called Crossing Borders, which increases collective awareness of the challenges faced by immigrant and refugee families through artistic rendition of their stories.

A huge shout out & thank you round to the amazing & talented individuals who helped my students increase empathy & deepen understanding of the challenges of being an immigrant or a refugee during our PBL Simulation! Kudos to Dr. Kristin Bourdage, her crew from Otterbein, Sandra Brogdon, Julia Dekeirle Davis, Jessica Diallo, Pamela Conn & my fabulous students who embrace growth-mindsets!


Preston Hickert, ELA teacher, Heritage Middle School, Liberty, Missouri:

This year we celebrated our second annual “HMS Comic Con” PBL experience with our sixth-grade students. Students developed superheroes (or villains) and wrote debut origin story comic books. We were able to hear from professional comic book writers to help us craft our stories. Students explored figurative language, narrative writing, and characterization throughout the process.

We showcased their posters and comic books at our school-wide “Comic Con” event (see photo above). Members of the community, parents, and other classes were able to see the work that our students had created. We even had a professional comic book writer and illustrator join us to share his work and his process!


Kari Stewart, 7th-8th grade science teacher, Tice Creek School, Walnut Creek, California

As my 4th school year winds down, teaching at a school that has embraced project-based learning, I reflect on a number of successes that have inspired me. Above all, my 7th grade project on the prospect of eating insects to mitigate world food and environmental issues was particularly successful because in reflection my students said that being able to teach their parents something new, and watching them eat crickets, was empowering. A true learning moment about the power of teaching someone older than oneself. My students feel that with many PBL projects they are talking about topics that for the most part adults already are familiar with. In this project, they truly felt as if they were imparting new knowledge and having to be convincing. 

Another success was that my 8th graders had the opportunity to design their own project on climate change. They wrote the driving question together and came up with a product for their showcase that included inspiration from their field trip to the Exploratorium, a hands-on science museum in San Francisco. Their pride was apparent and I saw the empowerment they felt in this idea being their own. 

My last success to share is in full swing as the year is winding down. My students are doing a “Passion for Action” project in which they are choosing an interest to pursue new learning and then including some action. I have a boy writing music to conduct the band at his promotion, a girl learning about chalk art and spreading inspiration on sidewalks in our downtown, a group of girls going to the beach to pick up trash to create an art piece that educates the public, and a number of semi-successful businesses on Etsy creating their own products to sell. Although managing all these projects is difficult, I am truly inspired by their work. As my 8th graders go to high school, I am so excited for them to use what they have learned through project-based learning to someday change the world.


Kevin Lydy, social studies teacher, Yellow Springs  High School, Yellow Springs, Ohio

My colleague, John Day, had shared with me a picture of some banners that the city of Athens, Ohio had put up around Memorial Day to celebrate the city’s veterans. I shelved the idea at the time, but in October when I contemplated what to do for my unit on the experience of women in U.S. history, I decided to go for it.

The project’s goal was to enlighten students and, via the banners, the community about the parallel nature of U.S. history and Yellow Springs history. I reached out to the Yellow Springs Arts and Culture Commission and they were fully supportive of the project. I solicited research subject suggestions from the Yellow Springs Community via Facebook and was overwhelmed by the outpouring of recommendations; I ended up with over 100 names. 

Through a grant from the Art Academy of Cincinnati, I was provided with an experienced artist, Jay DeFazio, who came four times over the course of two months and helped students expand their creative thinking and understanding of digital media.

Along the way, the project grew to include the creation of a newspaper article students wrote to provide context for the woman/group of women researched. The students’ banners were erected along Xenia Avenue on March 8.  With the aid of a grant from the Yellow Springs Community Foundation and the unwavering support of the staff of the Yellow Springs News, my students’ articles were juried and published.

There were so many folks to thank who helped out with the project and it truly was a collaborative effort. I hope that next year’s crop of students will take up the charge to research those names on the list that were not researched to build upon this year’s work. I am pleased to know that the banners had such an impact on the people of Yellow Springs, as some folks wrote unsolicited letters to the editor to thank me and the students.  


Hoke Huss, (former) high school teacher, computer forensics, Lauren County School District, South Carolina:

I taught computer forensics to six classes of up to 30 students each. Through the entire course (over 100 hours), the students worked through the process of identification, collection, transport, acquisition, and interpretation of computer drives and data. They were given very little details... “Norm is a software salesperson who has been accused of selling stolen military software to a foreign person.”  

In the course they were tasked with learning the forensic steps and how to access hidden or deleted data. They had to defend the legality of the acquisition and discovery processes and determine the suspect’s guilt or innocence based only on what they legally discovered. They researched the relevant law, applied the law, learned how to collect hardware, learned how to read and interpret the data, and built cases for or against the suspect. Most had a great experience and often taught me, too, as they built confidence in their investigative work and in their critical thinking skills. 


And finally, here are some reflections about PBL generally, from a veteran teacher where PBLWorks is a partner in a statewide PBL effort:

Mary Hartigan-Demers, 7th-8th grade science teacher, Manchester, New Hampshire:

Thank you so much for providing this opportunity for teachers to tell you about their PBL experience during the year. I have been teaching for 31 years and I fell in love with PBL. My students completed three PBL projects for each grade level. I loved watching the students collaborate with their peers and having those moments where everything fell into place. I truly loved reading their reflections and telling me what fun they had and explaining to me that they learned so much! I look forward to developing more high-quality projects so my classroom is a full PBL classroom. My students loved doing these projects and were fully engaged in their learning!!


Have you got some PBL stories to share? Would you like to write a guest blog post? Please email john@pblworks.org, thanks!

 

John Larmer, Editor in Chief
John is editor in chief at PBLWorks, where he has helped create professional development workshops and PBL curriculum materials. He writes for and edits the PBL Blog, and is the co-author of several books on PBL.