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.
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.
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!
So 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.
‘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.
I recently spent a week with fellow teachers, educators and scientists on North Stradbroke Island as a part of the Teachwild Marine Debris Project managed by the CSIRO and Earthwatch.
Our school has a real focus on making connections and project based learning – we want our students actively engaged with their studies and learning that has a purpose. TeachWild, through the monitoring of marine debris encourages students to contribute data on a national level while taking on an environmental stewardship role locally.
As a part of the project I wrote a daily blog that details the learning and how students benefit.