Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Project Based Learning: Leap of Faith

Last spring when my principal pulled me aside and asked if my partner and I would be interested in doing project based learning with our class, my first thought was, "WHAT IS project based learning?"

Now, I had heard a bit of buzz about project based learning, but if I were to be perfectly honest, I had no true idea exactly what it entailed. So my first step was to hit the internet and do some research.

There was an overwhelming amount of information out there....often more than I could wrap my head around. 

Of all that I found, this short video from Edutopia gave me the clearest visual of what she was asking us to do, so this became our starting point. 

Real-world Connection

Our first step was to create a real-world connection... because this was our first attempt at project-based learning, we decided to keep it small. After researching project examples, we decided to create a brochure of our school, and our guiding questions to the kiddos became, "What would we need to include in a brochure to tell visitors as much as possible about our school, and how will we create it?" (For future projects, I would approach this as something that is more student driven...allowing students to create their own project.)

Mrs. Hanna came in and introduced the project to some very excited kiddos!

Core to Learning

Mrs. Whitt and I then sat down and discussed which Common Core Standards would be addressed in this project. The most challenging piece of this was to include as many subjects as possible within the project. 

Structured Collaboration

Students first browsed many examples of brochures, noting what the best brochures had in common and what each group felt was most important to include in their own.



Student Driven

After deciding what was most important to each group, they took off in their research. Here collaborative groups are looking through school scrapbooks dating back to the opening of the school, noting how it is displayed and written.

Students asked Mr. Dalton, the first principal at Southside, to come and share more of its history. Students took notes that they felt would be most important to their groups finished product and then worked with other group members to present it in the best way possible.

Groups had to be responsible to work throughout the building without interrupting the learning of other classes. This group is working together to create the map of the building that would be shared during their presentations. Maps had to include the length of each hallway and the distances from major points of interest within the building. Often you could find other groups interviewing students or taking photographs for their brochures. It became our job to monitor and guide them with questioning to the next step needed to create a finished product.
Multifaceted Assessment

Students had to email specific project requests to me. We would work together to revise and edit all requests to be appropriate and formal, and I would forward them to the appropriate parties.

Although we started the project with a number of forms to help the students maintain accountability and help me assess throughout, it quickly became clear that sharing our documents through Google Docs was a much more appropriate way for Mrs. Whitt and I to measure progress.


We assessed groups and individual students throughout the project and within the final presentations and projects. 

A few finished brochures.....

This group interviewed students from each grade level asking, "What do you like about Southside?"

Students learned about and created QR Codes to direct readers to important web pages. 

This group approached me about interviewing the superintendent of our district. My first step was to ask what they wanted to ask, and when they couldn't answer, I sent them back to the drawing board. Later they emailed these questions to me, and I have to admit to being impressed. When I asked them how they came up with these questions, they told me they researched "good interview questions." I was very proud, and they were just as proud when Dr. Thurman responded to their email.

This group spent a considerable amount of time with the formating of the panther in the background and how to line it up with their content. Their focus and determination really drove them and kept them busy for a while. This part of their project took more collaboration/ facilitation from me, but with them guiding me, we reached their goal. You may not be able to see it, but their text is a guide to what your student should know at the end of each grade level. 

When it came time to present, the students decided they wanted to meet their guests in the hallway and shake their hands, welcoming them to the presentation.

Each group worked out how they would present to a room full of elementary administrators AND our school superintendent. We were all nervous, but it was so fun to watch them shine for a job well done. 


Our presenters!

Although this was our first experience with Project Based Learning, I found it to be an amazing learning experience for not only the students but for Mrs. Whitt and myself as well. Letting go and allowing students to guide their learning was at times a leap of faith, but like I have said before, I have often found that when I am willing to take that leap, the kiddos are willing to meet the challenge. The students were very proud of their accomplishments and many were more than excited to share their finished projects with the guests at the presentations and later with their families.


  1. Amazing! The video is the one that got me hooked on PBL! It is also the school I visited in San Antonio to learn about PBL. I love it! Ya'll are going to be amazing!!! I'm so proud of you and Linda! Way to go Education Rockstars!!! ❤️ Casey Hanna

  2. We had a new principal at our school last year and she encouraged us to head in the pbl direction, too. She asked for each of us to try and complete 1 pbl in our classroom last year. I love it. It is a little scary, but the kids are completely engaged and authentic learning really goes on. I'm going to try and have my entire year of social studies head more in this direction - no more textbook! Thank you so much for sharing. I love the idea of having the kids create something for and about the school. Great ideas!!
    Are We There Yet?