Sunday, March 16, 2014

Project Based Learning

What is it? How can I use it? Will it really increase student engagement?

Project Based Learning is all about giving the students the opportunity to have authentic learning experiences, where they are in charge of gathering knowledge. I think about this all the time as a teacher. I went to elementary school and learned very similar things that I am teaching my students. I always struggled with math as a student, but now that I have to teach it I understand it much better. Would I have been a better math student all those years ago if I were learning and finding the information myself? If I would have had to explain my thinking and work in collaboration with my peers, I know I would have been a better math student.

I watched these three videos about Project Based Learning to gain a better understanding of what it looks like in a real classroom. I LOVE that they show primary students doing it as well!

I don’t know about you…but I always question what my young students are able to do. I do not want to overwhelm them with something that is too complex. I really need to let go of that! Because what is the worst that can happen? It may not work, and we would have to try something different! Trial and error is a great lesson!  

The three lessons from the videos have very similar design structure. Each lesson is crafted so that the students can explore a real word topic within the walls of their classroom. There may be times where they gain knowledge from field trips or experts, but most of their research is done in the classroom using a variety of technology. The role of the teacher changes in a PBL classroom. The teacher becomes a facilitator. The teacher does most of the preparation before the students walk into the classroom. The teacher will prep the classroom so that it is ready for groups of students to conduct research and gain knowledge about the topic they are studying. The students go from sitting in quiet rows to working in busy collaborative groups.

This approach changes things! It puts the job of learning in the hands of the students. If they do not know the answer, they work together with their teacher to research the answer. It gives them more control over their learning, which leads to higher student engagement. They are creating meaningful work, and the stakes are higher. The students have higher motivation and all around learning is increased.

These articles and videos are making me question my own teaching practices! What can I do different? I want my students to learn, understanding, and then have the ability and knowledge to teach the topic to someone else! I cannot wait to start using Project Based Learning into our classroom!

Here are the the resources I used! 

"March of the Monarchs: Students Follow the Butterflies' Migration" - Diane Curtis, Edutopia 

"More Fun Than a Barrel of . . . Worms?!" - Diane Curtis, Edutopia 

"Geometry Students Angle into Architecture Through Project Learning" - Sara Armstrong, Edutopia

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Donors Choose


I am here today to share with you this awesome website called

At Donors Choose you can create a class project that you need help funding. It may be technology, materials, a guest speaker, and so much more. Once you type up the information it has to be submitted to the website. They will let you know if it has been approved (you may have to make adjustments). Once it has been approved you may send it out to everyone you know and hope and pray that you get your project funded!

I was in need of some technology in our classroom. I created a funding project for an iPad and an Apple TV. I posted it to Facebook and asked my friends in family for their support. I NEVER thought that in 1.5 days the project would be funded and I would have the materials in my classroom less then a week later!

One of my favorite thing about Donors Choose is that they have a period of time where your family/friends can type in the code INSPIRE when they donate and another company will match their donations up to $100. It makes everything so much quicker! So a $20 turns into $40 - a $100 turns into $200 - and so on!

So this was my first Instagram post after I found out that I was funded! It was just 1 week ago today!

This was me yesterday holding my brand new iPad! The apple TV is on my desk ;)

I will warn you!! If you are trying to hook up the apple tv to your projection screen you will need a special cord. It may depend on the projector type! This is the one I ordered from amazon! Click on the picture to buy it from Amazon. You may want to check with your tech department to be sure it is the correct cord for you!

A few friends on Instagram were curious how an Apple TV would work in the classroom. I thought I would give a few details for those who are interested. 

The Apple TV just plugged in gives you access to Netflix, some news channels, Discovery, your music, your videos, YouTube, etc. That is a nice feature, but the reason it is beneficial to a teacher is because it allows you to mirror most apple products. 

When you mirror an iPad it can be wonderful!! There are times where you want to show the class how an app works, so this would allow you to teach it quickly to the entire group. You can display class books from apps like Book Creator (see my previous post about this app). Then with a basic drawing app you can use it as an interactive white board. I do not have a smart board so this is AMAZING!! Then if you have more than one iPad you can bounce back and forth to view other screens. 

Lets say you are teaching a math problem. You tell the students to solver the problem 4+8 using any method that they choose. You can quickly flash a students work onto the screen and show them how this student used a picture, then flash another one up to the screen to show how another student used a different strategy. It is super easy to teach the students how to do!!

There are also other apps like Show Me or Educreations where a student may be working independently to solve a problem or respond to reading. You can show the students work to the class by again just mirroring the iPad! 

If you have any questions feel free to email me or comment below. I will try to post some more directions on hooking it all up next week!

Have a wonderful weekend!


Wednesday, March 12, 2014


Where do I start???

It all started when my class came back from Christmas break. We started to learn how to question before, during, and after reading. We started by questioning with fiction texts. Kheila posted a great post about that. Check it out here.

last year I have really fell in love with teaching penguins. I wanted to go beyond just labeling the parts of the penguins and reading facts to the children. I wanted the kids to take part int the process. My sweet friend Kheila from Two Friends In First told me about something she has done before called rainbow books. It took some time for me to get a solid handle on it, but now that I have done it from start to end I am in LOVE with this process. I am by no means am an expert on this, but this is how I managed to make it work in my classroom this year!

When we started to question with non-fitction we wrote down any questions we had about penguins on Post-it notes and then just stuck all of them up on the board. (It was a large sea of questions! That had so many things they were curious about)

After all of our questions were written down we grouped our questions into larger groups. I used our "schema" folders to do so.  We knew we would be finding the answers to these questions and in effect we would be adding schema to our brain!

Before we started reading we decided on a color coded system that would allow us to code the answers to the corresponding question color. For example, any information in the book that related to what penguins looked like would be tabbed purple.

Then we pulled out all of our books about penguins and we set to work!

First I read 2-3 penguin books together as a class and we practiced how and when to add the color coded tabs. I wanted to do it as a whole class first so that there would be less questions when they set to work independently.

I assigned a folder to each of my reading groups. Then I pulled books that I felt each reading group could handle reading on their own and we set to work! Believe it or not there are good penguin books on the lower levels like E and F. I have 4-5 that they were able to look at independently. There was one or two that we did as a "shared reading" during guided reading and we all just worked together. My other 4 groups did a wonderful job and were able to read most of the books. I also remind my students that text features give you lots of clues about what the page is all about.

They absolutely loved doing the research!

Then once we had finished the research it was time to get writing! We spent a few days during writing block to talk about text features and how they help you to tell a story. We referenced other non-fiction books to learn for expert authors. 

I met with them in groups and we looked at each section of our folders and decided how we could break that question down so that everyone could contribute to the book. I created these layouts for each group so that they could remember their topic. These pages were great for keeping organized! 

At first they created their own page independently so I could see what text features they decided to use and what information they were communicating to the reader. Together we looked at their writing and we figured out how to make it better and adjust it. The page with blue pen is the page we did together. 

Once the rough drafts were done it was time to create our book! 

We used Book Creator to do this project. I chose this app over the many others out there because…
1. It is easy for the kids to use
2. It allows them to draw into the app
3. It allows you to record their voice reading the text (an extra fun way to make it personalized)
4. It can be put into your iBooks library or exported as a PDF for printing!

So with some help of a very kind class mom and all my students we were able to create our very first digital class book!

Check out the quick video I took of the book. It was the only way I could let you hear their voices! I only did a few just to give you the idea :)  

Sorry the video is not great! I tried a few times… and this was the best I could do!

I hope you enjoyed learning about how we studied penguins this year! I am working on putting a unit together to explain the lessons that took place to do all of these activities. 

Thanks for your support!