Podcast with Australian Teacher Magazine – ACER

Podcast Special: Science – student engagement, teaching excellence and outside expertise

A podcast with Brett McKay from Kirrawee High and myself covering contemporary science K-12.

https://www.teachermagazine.com.au/articles/podcast-special-science-student-engagement-teaching-excellence-and-outside

Primary Science Matters – Podcast with Fizzics Education.

I recently had the opportunity to record a podcast with Ben Newsome of Fizzics Education. Having an extended time to discuss all things science and teaching was refreshing!

https://www.fizzicseducation.com.au/Blog/x_post/Podcast-neil-bramsen-on-the-importance-of-primary-science-education-00275.html

Top 4 learnings from this episode

1. Whilst conducting your science lesson, have in mind a kitchen scale… is your lesson well balanced between having fun and delivering deeper meaning?

2. Use the outdoors. This can be a fantastic circuit breaker for students plus the environment around you can provide a rich source of learning opportunities.

3. Restricting the number of desks in the classroom forces you to creatively think of different methods of delivering a lesson.

4. Invest in your colleagues. Provide as many opportunities as possible for professional development and the investment will pay itself back ten-fold.

2017 Prime Minister’s Prize for Excellence in Science Teaching in Primary Schools

I was recently fortunate enough to have two school parents generously nominate me for the Prime Minister’s science prizes. After a lengthy process I received a phone call while driving to the snow one Friday night. On a scratchy line it was a real delight to be told that I was the primary teaching recipient.

Essentially the award distills twelve or more years of actively engaging in, and for the most part enjoying, the teaching of science and associated areas in the primary school context. It was an honour to share this award with the other recipients who are all outstanding scientists and researchers; humble, dedicated and great company over the few days we spent together in Canberra.

The school I work at, Mount Ousley PS, Principal Peter Holmes and the staff all deserve recognition for making the school a dynamic and vibrant place of student focused contemporary learning. There is a strong culture of trust and a supportive community.

I was asked to share my thoughts on aspects of science teaching, STEM, the outdoor classroom and contemporary teaching. They are below, and whilst being a media and broadcast beginner they capture my beliefs more spontaneously than through a written post or essay.

Richard Glover Drive Interview

Fran Kelly Radio National Interview

Awards Video – including school context

 

Bottle Rocket Design Competition – NSW Aeronautical Velocity Challenge

This year students from stage 3 participated in the NSW Aeronautical Velocity Challenge – a competition designed to encourage STEM skills across bottle rockets and model planes for all ages and education sectors.

The winners were getting upwards of 125m in distance, which is very impressive. Mt Ousley PS has spent quite some time over the past few years using rocketry as a way to hook kids into loving science, maths and all things space. So it was great to join in this event.

While model engine rockets have a place in my program after visits to the Honeywell Educators@Spacecamp program,  I also love bottle rockets for the relative simplicity of teaching elements of design, maths and physics. With variables including fin and nose cone design, rocket mass and balance and air/water fuel balance, the opportunity arises for many iterations and tests to obtain maximum flight.

Our team ran with a simple 1.2L bottle, foam core fins, a weighted nose cone and a decorative mission patch which is a terrific way to incorporate elements of human endeavour, art and symbolism. Not the most evolutionary but a sound starting point for their first competition.

One of the best aspects of sharing in these days is getting to see how other teams approach the design process. Many primary and secondary schools were using 3D printers to design fins and nose cones. There were also quite a few jigs and spacers being used to carefully hot glue on the various components. Our team came away excitedly planning how they might approach future builds.

When it came to what mattered – the launches, they were a mix of long and impressive flight, some mid air collapses and a few with wayward direction due to design flaws with balance, fins, weight etc. Rocketry is a truly engaging STEM activity that offers wonderful design opportunities and a visible result as to success or otherwise.

Of course it’s always fun to launch, fire or blast a rocket and both teachers and students enjoy the experience. Importantly rocketry can be done safely with some basic attention to cutting and tool instruction and well considered launch and recovery procedures. Always learning!

The Butterfly Garden – Six months on with butterflies!

Last year, and as outlined in a previous post my stage two class set out on a six month project to establish a butterfly garden with monarch butterflies being one of the main species that we wanted to attract and sustain.

So last week it was truly satisfying to see a couple of monarch butterflies in the garden. Along with some of the students that participated in the PBL project we carefully examined the milkweed plants which act as a host for egg laying and monarch caterpillars. Sure enough not only did we find quite a few eggs on the tips but also fifteen or so caterpillars in varying stages of maturity.

The kids were totally over the moon with the evidence of success and at seeing a natural life cycle occurring in the habitat that they had helped create.

We are looking forward to monitoring the health of the garden and the number of monarch butterflies that mature. The garden is also proving popular with my classes for nature sketching and quite time.

Novel Engineering Update

One of my favourite and most powerful ways of motivating and enthusing students into STEM elements is through design challenges.

 

Novel Engineering out of TUFTS University have updated their resources and book list and the site now offers teachers a great opportunity to connect literature and texts to real life problem solving challenges. In having students construct solutions to challenges faced throughout texts then design and engineering opportunities can be considered, alongside responses to, and deeper engagement with various fiction texts.

http://www.novelengineering.org/books

The Butterfly Garden – Project Based Learning

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Butterfly Garden Project Based Learning

 

I am always keen to have my students undertake at least one major project based learning experience each year. In mid 2016 I had my class work on revitalising an overgrown garden area into a ‘Butterfly Garden’. I was inspired by my visit to High Tech High in Chula Vista a few years ago where I saw a comprehensive PBL program in place including a butterfly component.

Exploring regional butterflies and appropriate feeder plants introduced a strong environmental and biodiversity perspective as students considered the ecology of a butterfly habitat.

Over the course of six months it was rewarding to document and reflect on the process that covered a multitude of learning areas such as measurement, science and information reports but also the physical tasks of gardening and assembling materials.

Of course PBL is a terrific way to ‘access’ this type of learning and each student was able to achieve success through various entry and exit points that they could identify with. Key Learning Areas such as mathematics, science and English and PD,H,PE came into play and offered a broad scope of learning opportunities.

There was extensive use of measurement; both through aerial photography via a DJI Phantom Drone and scale and grid tasks that calculated the area of the garden and path. This then evolved into a volume activity as the depth of mulch and crushed concrete were calculated.

 

   

The students used websites to source local materials, cost the materials and to then ring the landscape company to place the order.

Highlights included in-depth research into local butterflies and suitable host plants. The class explored colour and the types of colour needed to attract butterflies.

Importantly it all came together as student’s physically engaged with and enjoyed the gardening – from clearing weeds, moving barrow loads of mulch and pouring crushed aggregate to make the path. The area came to life as the seedlings and young plants were put in and began to develop. Students then followed a procedure to assemble benches so that it was a welcoming learning space.

A daily watering regime was added to the class task list and deep saucers were added for birds and to provide water for butterflies.

As the area established it was used for nature sketching, quiet time, reading and sensory awareness activities by the class.

                     

 

Now in early 2017 the garden is evolving as species continue to mature. Now is the time for other students and classes to take the opportunity to enjoy this special place. Those who contributed to its making remain keen to use and proud of their learning and effort.

The garden six months on!

Integrated design challenges and coding with Sphero and K’nex.

Learning through serious play…

I love the excitement that children express when faced with what, to an adult, might be considered a ‘ho-hum’ type of learning opportunity. It serves as a reminder to respect a child’s view of the world and the thought processes attached. The examples below exemplify this thinking and are fun and challenging engineering based challenges designed to enthuse and engage students.

These STEM based design learning tasks resonate with years 2-6 and utilise K’NEX pieces to design and make both a bridge and chariot that are tested using a Sphero robotic ball. These are both activities that any teacher can lead and they both offer entry points that enable success for all students.

I would also add that both of these activities are detailed on the Sphero SPRK Lightning Lab education website, accessible by a free educator account.

The Bridge

The bridge is another great design and make challenge. I always show Galloping Gertie, the Tacoma Narrows bridge disaster via Youtube to engage and hook the students into thinking about bridge design and engineering. The oohs and aahs alone are worth showing the footage.

The challenge is to span a distance via a bridge that Sphero can be driven or coded to cross. I like a span around 40cm as it is longer than a ruler and results in multiple connections and more complex thinking. K’NEX works well for this activity as do rulers and paddle pop sticks, albeit with more masking tape, Blutac or similar.

I’ve found that two or three iterations (number of designs) are often needed to deliver a structure that can support the Sphero and provide some edge guidance or rails. Be careful on smooth desks as Sphero can spin due to the lack of traction, some masking tape to rough up the surface is worthwhile.

To add to the challenge, students working in groups might only be allowed to ask the teacher (engineer) one design question or students could be given a $ budget and purchase materials from the teacher as would happen in real life. I also have students weigh their bridges and compare results. Leaning to balance weight versus strength and rigidity is an important learning point.

 

The Chariot

This is a fun and somewhat tricky challenge offering opportunities for multiple iterations and trials. The challenge is to build a chariot (or harness) that a programmed Sphero acting as horse can drag over a course. K’NEX is ideal due to the range of connection options. I’ve also used CDs as wheels and LEGO pieces as needed by students. Sphero can be programmed using SPRK or Tickle app to complete a course, or for a straight line race, I’d recommend the Sphero Draw and Drive app. The design of the chariot can be simple or complex and students often find the axle/wheel combination one of the more challenging aspects to master.

Collaboration, creativity, problem solving, reflection and resilience are evident in these tasks and strong connections to the maths syllabus and coding are embedded.

design make improve – learning through serious play!

 

 

 

 

Draft consultation on the revised K-10 Science Syllabus

The Science K-10 Syllabus is up for review and BOSTES is currently holding consultation sessions around the state. I attended the Wollongong session last week and came away impressed by the level of engaged and passionate discussion by those that participated. Session locations are here.

Based on the Draft Directions for Syllabus Development document the main changes being considered are:

  • the inclusion of a Connected World content module –  this takes on board elements of the Australian Curriculum Digital Technologies. Concepts will include;
    • Communications: examine how living things communicate and transmit information.
    • Digital systems: recognise and explore how hardware and software components interact.
    • Data patterns: recognise different patterns in data including coding. Test predications by gathering data and evidence to develop explanations of events and phenomena.
    • Data types: recognise that whole numbers are used to represent data in digital systems.
    • Networks: explore components of common natural and digital systems and how they connect to form networks to transmit data.
  • the inclusion on a ‘make’ component as an explicit part of the design process – Inquire, Design, Make, Evaluate.

We had an interesting discussion about the order in the syllabus of value and attitudes, skills and knowledge and understandings. Skills is now separate to Knowledge and Understanding. There was general agreement that values and attitudes should be placed first on the page as instilling in students a positivity and curiosity that encourage them to value science was of significance. Without valuing science the lessons  and learning experiences mean nothing and simply become another curriculum box ticking exercise.

All in all I’d highly recommend teachers make the effort to contribute to syllabus development. How often do we hear staffroom rumblings about content and outcomes, continuums and rationale. This meeting was an insight into the development process and the BOSTES staff were very keen to hear and capture  feedback.

Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning Online Course

Coursera is offering the Exploratorium’s great Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning online course. It starts June 27.

I did this two years ago and it was without doubt one of the best professional learning experiences of the year. It offers global collaboration, hands-on learning and solid theory and insights from leading practitioners.

Most project parts can be sourced locally and the skills and knowledge gained are very useful if making and tinkering is to be a focus in your school or classroom.

Check it out at  –  https://www.coursera.org/learn/tinkering

Also check out the Tinkering Studio for an insight into some of the projects – http://tinkering.exploratorium.edu/projects

dare mighty things!

Inspire Innovate Presentation 2016

Here is a pdf of the Make2Learn presentation. Please note that the many videos will not be playing!

Inspire Innovate Make2Learn

Some of the equipment showcased includes;

Sphero and Sphero SPRK app

Littlebits

Cubelets

Parrot Rolling Spider mini-drones (although I’d recommend Airbourne Cargo now)

Tickle App (iOS only)

Feel free to contact me for further information. Thanks for sharing and dare mighty things in your classroom!

 

InspireInnovate 2016

InspireInnovate 2016 is on March 9 and 10 and offers a great opportunity for NSW Department of Education teachers to experience two days of contemporary best teaching practise examples shared through keynotes and workshops. I’m running a workshop on Makerspaces and how Mt Ousley is implementing a K-6 inclusive making environment. Come along and learn through tinkering and making in a fun yet challenging environment!

Register here  – http://inspireinnovate.nsw.edu.au/

Make2Learn – Adventures in Makerspaces

This semester we’ve been fitting out an old lab into a K-6 makerspace. For now, we have a dedicated room for children to explore, design, create, make mistakes and reflect, while in effect they learn through play. Kids can make a mess and ideate in a room designed to grow ideas and resilience.

Outcomes wise (and see my previous post for the rational), making meets a range of syllabus outcomes, especially in terms of Working Scientifically through the design process and Working Mathematically aspects of communication, logical thinking and reasoning. Student reflection (English) and a growth mindset that develops resilience are also school priorities.

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After consulting with staff, the room has been fitted out with a range of starter equipment including –

Various electronic circuits and kits

Arduino

Lots of LEGO bricks, building pieces and characters

LEGO simple machines sets

KNEX

Boxes of plasticine, paddle pop sticks, match sticks, felt and cardboard

Parrot mini-drones

Sphero robots

LEGO NXT and EV3 robotics

Littlebits electronics

Cubelets robots

Digital microscopes

And before you ask a 3D printer? – No (not yet convinced!)

As K-6 classes identify what suits both students and teachers we will top up kits as needed. Initially we have had great success with Sphero and Parrot mini-drone coding through Tickle app. We don’t want the kids just driving and flying the drones (though it is an introduction) we want students taking on challenge problems using coordinates, angles, distance and time. Logical programming apps such as Tickle enable this to occur.

From the high tech of drones to low tech, students are planning, making, testing and improving their designs. Marble runs with cardboard rolls and paddle pop sticks and simply creating plasticine modelled landscapes and objects are still a favourite.

Interestingly and pleasingly, making and tinkering is already moving into classrooms with children and teachers using both high tech (Littlebits, Sphero etc) and low tech (plasticine, cardboard).

As making becomes embedded in the contemporary teaching and learning cycle I’m sure we will see more making and tinkering in rooms, and it will become a norm rather than the exciting and somewhat ‘new’ type of learning often thrown into the now well out of date 21st Century learning myth.

Always learning.

2016 Honeywell Educators@Spacecamp

You only have to read previous posts to see how much the Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program has influenced my STEM teaching over the past five years –from rocketry and space, LEGO NXT and EV3 robotics to innovative math lessons such as 2015 coding with Sphero and Parrot Spider mini-drones.

Applications are now open for 2016. Follow the link for a possible countdown to global collaboration, life long friendships and rewarding professional learning!

Dare Mighty Things!

https://educators.honeywell.com/

 

Cubes in Space – Student Space Experiments

Enabling authentic science or learning in any subject area is a real passion of mine. I want my students, and those in other classes to partake in learning that has true meaning and purpose whenever possible. Authentic learning hooks students (and adults for that matter) because it is REAL and students rightly believe that what they are doing has both real purpose and validity. You don’t find it in worksheets, most textbooks or in any one size fits all form of teaching with a teacher blah, blah blahing at the front of the room.

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Space science and project based learning have provided my students with fun, exciting and purposeful opportunities, and one that two groups of Mt Ousley students have participated in in 2014 and 2015 is the Cubes in Space (CiS) program.

CiS offers students across the globe an opportunity to send an investigation into space from NASA Langley Virginia on a sounding rocket. Yes… launch your idea… on a rocket with the help of NASA – very cool!

Here is the video of our 2014 launch.

Cool but challenging. The selected investigation had to be contained in a plastic cube container measuring approximately 40mmx 40mm x 40mm and weighing 30 grams or so.

launch3

Last year my first group of students submitted an idea to test the effects of magnetism in a micro-g environment. It is important to remember this is the students investigation and their research, as the teacher I’ve helped with materials and roughing out ideas but I don’t discuss their hypothesis or any misconception – that would take the fun out of it! The students covered one side of the magnet with iron filings and the other side with iron filing covered in chalk dust. The idea being to see if there was any movement of the filings due to reduced magnetism in space.

So what happened? Well the school bought in to the idea and many families sat up late to watch the live launch of the Terrier rocket – exciting in its own right! The local paper got on board and shared the students’ journey. A month later the payload returned and it was opened and yes there was chalk dust everywhere – something had happened to move the dust but what? The students then realised the potential flaw as the dust could have spread during the flight over, during the shake test, during micro-g? or on return. So with a smile of the unsure, the results were inconclusive.

This year another group of students chose to submit the same investigation, this time using rusted filings on one side and normal on the other. The idea being the rust would hold and a better indication of movement would be measured. Again the school bought in, the launch was watched, and the payload was launched and recovered.

A month later the payload returned to our school and again the iron rust had spread throughout the case covering not only the filings but also everything else! Again, no result that could confirm or deny the students’ beliefs. That’s the great thing about science, you have to keep failing forward and I look optimistically to next year when our third group of students will have their opportunity to get hands-on and launch their idea.

Important CiS is accepting applications from October 12 from schools across the globe for 2016 sounding rocket and weather balloon launch opportunities.

So get your kids together and enjoy the challenges and rewards of authentic space science through the Cubes in Space program.

Space Foundation – Teacher Liaison Professional Learning

Continuing to grow professionally and personally is an essential ingredient to maintaining enthusiasm, knowledge and currency in the teaching profession. Professional learning experiences for myself include life changing opportunities such as a Churchill Fellowship, Honeywell Educators@Spacecamp and Apple Distinguished Educator conferences, to earthy, yet as valuable, TeachMeets and Edcamps that offer valuable local networking and professional learning opportunities. ‘Thanks for sharing’ is so great to hear!

The Space Foundation Teacher Liaison program offers K-12 and other educators with a passion for space science and education, the opportunity to share, collaborate and network under the umbrella of The Space Foundation. Applications are now open and if you can demonstrate evidence of student engagement, community outreach, teacher education and a Space Foundation connection (not difficult) then you might well join the 2015/16 intake. Applications close December 4 2015.

Good voyaging – http://www.spacefoundation.org/education/education-programs/teacher-liaison-officers

K-6 Making and Tinkering (+ NSW syllabus links)

 because making is fun….

Tinkering and making, or Tinkertime as the kids term it, has been the learning activity of choice in my stage two class for the past year or so. After seeing a range of makerspaces and hands-on learning environments on my Churchill fellowship last year I was keen to introduce tinkering into my classroom.

Learning through play is the term used by Chris Rogers from TUFTS CEEO when talking about LEGO bricks and robotics as tools for classroom learning. Tinkering is also about learning though play and is inclusive of creative, challenging, reflective and shared learning experiences.

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Tinkertime and making has proven a very successful way to have all students engaged in hands-on design and make activities.

There are demonstrable milestones and outcomes programmed against the NSW Science K-10 syllabus and the Working Technologically strand. Importantly, when combined with aspects of the Mathematics K-10 syllabus covering Working Mathematically and English K-10 via student reflection, tinkering offers comprehensive cross key learning area differentiated learning. The K-6 NSW outcomes that may be applicable are shown below.

 

science outcomeseng1

math1

At the same time I regularly check-in with students to ensure that they are effectively reflecting on the design and make process. I have them verbally identify their successes but also challenges.

I always ask, ‘What could be improved?’ and ‘How sweaty is your brain?’, a question that encourages students to reflect on the mental effort and thinking that is taking place.

Frustration, failure and persistence are traits and experiences that students need a self-awareness and understanding of. Too often student mindsets don’t allow for failure and I’ve found that tinkering greatly develops resilience in students. Failure and mistakes are what tinkering is all about and giving up on a task is not an option.

Entry level tinkering

A few examples of successful activities and that also use a minimum of resources are outlined below.

The scribbling machine.

These simple yet effective machines are made with a cup, 3-5 felt tip markers and a small DC motor and battery with plasticine or similar to act as a balance. Students are set the challenge of designing a machine that scribbles across a page leaving a colourful and creative design or pattern. The trick is to get the motor out of balance so that the machine is vibrating across the paper. Adjusting the motor position and adding material to ensure that the shaft is out of balance are essential to success.

 

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The marble run.

Marble runs have a been a wonderful surprise, this year. They are surprisingly simple, yet can offer degrees of complexity and opportunity that I had never considered. Using just paddle pop sticks and plasticine my class have had hours of challenging fun designing and testing courses with set criteria such as the run must take 9 seconds from start to finish, or, it must include 14 sticks or 3 acute angle and 4 obtuse angle drops. The criteria are endless!

 

What else? Well LEGO brick constructions, deconstructing broken mechanical items and toys, robotics in its many forms including littleBits, cubelets and NXT/EV3 robotics, paper and sewn circuits, coding and programming are all options during Tinkertime!

 

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There are many resources now available on the web and I recommend Stager’s Invent to Learn text and website and the Exploratoriums Tinkering site for activity guides and their wonderful Coursera Tinkering course.

With the increasing focus on making STEM interesting, valid and valued within the K-6 curriculum, tinkering and making have rightfully bright futures in the contemporary teaching and learning environment.

 

Project Based Learning PBL – Sprucing up the classroom doors!

This is a follow up project based learning experience to “Operation Sandbox’ completed earlier in the year and detailed in a previous blog. The focus on this activity was on mastering aspects of area while sandbox dived deeply into volume. The feedback from most (but not all) students on ‘Operation Sandbox’ was that they really enjoyed the exploration, creative learning and real life aspects of the project. It was challenging, and of course many aspects of the maths content will be revisited for consolidation and extension during future maths lessons.

Mt Ousley PS staff are focusing on improving the learning spaces in the school. It’s a standard 1960 building with corridors, square rooms, and some areas that are under utilised for learning. Teachers have been allocated a generous budget to partially refurbish their rooms with flexible seating, storage and display furnishings – exciting times!

As classes increasingly focus on differentiated learning and small group learning, we are seeing students working on the floor, in corridors, bagrooms, our blue room recording studio and outside. Being 1:1 laptop also encourages student self-paced, anytime anywhere learning. A makerspace is being developed, new playground equipment has been installed and students are also designing a new outdoor learning area.

As our class collaborated and discussed items that would benefit our learning space the idea of painting the three dull green doors was raised; a perfect opportunity to engage the students in authentic learning via maths and the topic of area. I allowed the class to work in groups of 2-4 and set the task.

‘How much paint will we need to buy from the hardware store to adequately paint the three doors?

That was my set up question that would lead to other questions such as –

What units of measurement will use?

How will we physically measure aspects of the door?

How many coats does each door need?

What colour does the class agree on?

With a stage two class I had a small number of students who could confidently attack the problem and the majority who required some scaffolding and support, mainly through encouragment and providing confirmation that they were on the right track with strategies and equipment.

Over a week we had three practical sessions exploring the measurement tool used; metre ruler, class ruler or tape measure. Students practised taking accurate measurements in metres or centimetres. Students in their groups then used known area strategies, Googled ‘area’ calculations or came to me for tutorials on area.

We had a check in and found that some groups had the correct answer, while two that had only allowed for one coat of paint and forget to double their answer. The tutorial group had worked through the solution with my assistance.

The class then jumped onto the Dulux paint website and looked at enamel colours before reading the paint specifics from a hardware website to see what size tin was required. This was a great lesson in art and primary/secondary colours as we talked about the emotions of colour and how they impact a learning space. A lengthy discussion was had until we selected on a bright yellow to counter our turquoise green carpet and walls.

Ideally I would have had the students paint the doors, however  being enamel paint with strong fumes I decided against this. I did however have a few students give the doors a very light sand to get an idea of the preparation required. So with a one litre tin of bold yellow I’ve spent a couple of afternoons brightening up the room!  PBL

Photo 1 27So to me, PBL is a fun way of making learning authentic, engaging and challenging in a supportive and friendly manner. While backward mapping and careful programming are the keys to ensuring a cohesive delivery of the maths syllabus scope.

 

Project Based Learning PBL – Operation Sandbox; a primary school case study

‘Make the call,’ the stage 2 class chanted during the final part of our project as students rang a supplier to order and pay for a truckload of sand to refill the sand box. 

Project Based Learning, Challenge Based Learning, Purpose Based learning; call it what you will. The key is that it challenges both teacher and student to get out of their comfort zone (read boring for all, teach to the middle, not differentiated, textbooks etc.) and develop understandings through collaborative, authentic and real world challenges.

As we move to greater inquiry driven, differentiated and student centred learning opportunities, PBL through inquiry is a key enabler for success.

This term I set a PBL task a little different to my normal key learning area inquiry units and had students investigate, research and complete the task of refilling the school sandbox. Operation Sandbox was born as one student enthusiastically termed it!

With an empty sandbox that Kinder would like to use but couldn’t I had the ideal real world project with a meaningful outcome for the students to work on. Of course I could have asked the school office to ring up, order the sand and have it delivered but that would remove any opportunity for the students to make a meaningful contribution and engage in what turned out to be rewarding and insightful learning experience for all.

The Youtube video showcases the project and I’ll outline the key stages and make some observations.

I had the class form their own teams of 3-5 and took them to the sandbox, an empty box of around two metres by two metres and 45cm deep (of course they did not know this at the time, that was the challenge!). I then made it clear that the learning intention over the next three weeks was that our class, 3/4B had to calculate and order the correct amount of sand and have it delivered.

I then stepped back and had the groups go to work, they talked, debated and set about deciding what they had to do and what equipment they might use. Some students had a concept of area and that it was based on two sides, others knew that the words volume and capacity were involved. Initially none knew the formula to find the required volume.

After the first session each group shared their initial thoughts – use metre rulers, use 30cm class rulers, tape measures, 1000s blocks and one and two litre water containers. It was a real mix of strategies and ideas, and just what I hope to see, a cross pollination of ideas with some ideas stronger and more complete than others. Yet none were weak and all had real merit, even if they were not all practical as we would find out!

Over the next two weeks we had practical sessions and theory sessions. The practical sessions involved measuring, stacking 1000s blocks, running frantically with litre jugs of water. There was excitement, frustration, reflection and ‘gotcha’ or ‘uh ha’ moments when things stuck and concepts and skills were mastered.

Students discovered that volume and capacity are different, that finding the area only gets you so far, that measuring and re-measuring were important for accuracy (this was maths after all!). They went online to find local sand suppliers, asked me for the school credit card and looked at calendars and timetables to see the best times for delivery.

In the last week, three of the five groups achieved a volume calculation for the correct amount of sand, these were the groups using rulers and tape measures. I gave some clarification on the formula of length, width and depth but only when the students had forward the base idea. The group using 1000s blocks achieved area, but stalled at making two layers or doubling their base layer. The water group were wonderful to work with and are well represented in the video; their misconceptions and insights as they worked on the project are a delight to see. They chose water as they saw sand as a liquid, flowing if you like. Their thinking was interesting and they maintained a sense of humour even when things did not pan out as they had predicted. In this sense, their resilience was heartening to see. PBL challenges resilience and mindset.

So yes, eventually we made the call and two students used the credit card to order the sand and have it delivered. Kindergarten were and are happy, though just last week I saw that the sand is already thinning and much is on the ground where the children have built little castles and the like. So soon the opportunity will repeat itself and another class will take its turn. I’m already on the lookout for rooms needing painting, floors needing covering, gardens needing soil and so on. And that’s without looking beyond the school fence to where strong community and local connections can be made and successes celebrated.

PBL requires teamwork, commitment, reflection, a sense of humour and real effort; all things that we need to nurture and encourage in our students. Importantly it can be fun and makes teaching all the more enjoyable for the teacher and learning all the more enjoyable for students when adequate time and support are provided.