Monday, October 13, 2014

Science in Action-Project Based Learning

      You may be reading this statement a lot in the Education is Special blog, but for this teacher, it's true...My students are amazing!  I'm often saying that the only difference between special education and general education is the way that the students learn. On every level this is true. This leads me to project based learning. Many people view this as a new educational term and teaching method.  In many ways it is, but in many ways it is not.  In the past, I referred to it as a discovery based learning. It is in a sense kinesthetic  based learning which is learning by doing, but in many ways it is not! It is more than that.
     So, what is project based learning commonly known as PBL?  PBL is a teaching strategy where students gain knowledge, skills, and insight to a complex question, problem, or challenge.  They do this by working together for an extended period of time to investigate and then analyze the data they've collected to come up with a conclusion. In many ways PBL ties into the scientific method but can go beyond that into all academic areas including but not limited to:  English, math, and social studies. PBL was born out of Common Core and in my opinion is one of the better things that has been encouraged through Common Core.  In PBL, students are presented with a driving question.   The driving question, is an open ended question that students find intriguing and grabs their attention which gives them the drive and determination to seek out the answer. 
   In our case, our driving question was "Who were the ancient Whitehallers?"  Prior to an archaeological dig, I taunted my students for several days with significant content and vocabulary that they needed to know to make their archaeological dig a success. We read and talked about the importance of archaeological digs. We watched an archaeological dig that was properly conducted on Youtube. My goal was to peak enthusiasm while stressing the importance of conducting their "dig" in a professional manner.   The students learned how to make a grid to plot out their model digs and how to map their finds. They learned how to bag and label their artifacts to analyze later. I stressed the importance of not haphazardly digging the "earth" in their model plots.  I stressed the importance of carefully unearthing the artifacts and gently brushing off the excess dirt with a soft brush.  We discussed in depth the importance of recording our "finds" on our map.
Sample map
         Over several days I repeatedly heard, "Mrs. Aubin when can we do the dig?" I knew my students were ready when they could use in- depth inquiry and reiterate significant content on archaeology, sounding like experts!  I was also looking for students who didn't want to simply play in the dirt, but instead wanted to solve the driving question, "Who were the ancient Whitehallers?".  Finally it was time to dig! Excitement was in the air!  I split the students into two groups with two separate plots.  We carefully set up our grids and labeled them. Each student was assigned two coordinates within the plot that they were responsible for. Excitement ensued each time a student unearthed a significant artifact. This in turn fueled their fire to find out the essential question. Let me tell you watching this process was priceless!  My students were building 21st century competencies!  They were problem solving, using critical thinking, innovation, and they were appropriately collaborating.  I was guiding them in voice and choice as they worked together and productively used their time. They took turns sharing the sifters and helped each other to bag and label their artifacts. Best of all,  every student was engaged in the process! The only negative moment in this entire lesson was the sigh each day when the bell rang indicating that science period was over!  
     Finally, we were at the point in our archaeological investigation where we had to answer our essential driving question:  "Who were the ancient Whitehallers?"  This was the fun part for me, watching my students trying to make sense out of the myriad collection of eclectic artifacts. Some of the artifacts included: a Michael Jackson keychain,  a U.S.A. stamp costing $.13, pennies from the 1970's, photographs with burnt edges, watermelon seeds, McDonald's advertisements, gumball trinkets, Storytown U.S.A. pamphlets (Storytown is now named " Six Flags-The Great Escape", in Lake George, N.Y.), Whitehall Railroader memorabilia...etc.  The students took their artifacts with them to our computer lab to research them.  They had outlandish conversations about who the ancient Whitehallers could have been!  The highlight of their investigative archaeological dig was when they figured it out!  They were so excited! They jumped around and gleefully stated, it was the 1970's students!! Okay, not exactly ancient times but to these 6th and 7th graders it was ancient times! Sadly for me, it was my childhood and high school years!  They not only loved learning more about former Whitehall students but about me as well! They laughed and enjoyed learning more about their ancient teacher in the 1970's!
      This conversation about the 1970's led us into the next important component of PBL: critique and revision.  We discussed what we could have done differently to make our archaeological dig more successful, efficient, and valid. The students only conclusion was that they would like to do a real dig outside! For months afterwards, the archaeological dig came up as a topic of conversation. This helped me to assess this project as a winner! It showed me that PBL does work at all levels. So today my dear readers you too are part of the PBL experience which is to share their work with a public audience beyond their classmates and teacher!  Thank you for participating. I hope that you enjoyed our learning experience.

*The italicised  words are these that are relevant to Project Based Learning (PBL). Also, Our school is called Whitehall Central School which is where "ancient Whitehallers" came from! We are the Whitehall Railroaders.  

Railroaders Logo

Links for Educators:

NSTA resources for #EarthScienceWeek (most books have free chapters!) #NSTAPress

Bake a Cake in the #classroom for Make-A Wish Foundation UK- Free lesson pack 

Links for Parents:

Exercise Before School May Reduce #ADHD Symptoms in Some Kids

The Title Says it All: Music Enrichment Programs Improve the Neural Encoding of Speech in At-Risk Children

Participate in a Free Literacy Study with your Infant Under 28 Months, in Your Own Home.@BSTLorg

Do You Feel Like Your Child's Behavior is Your Fault?

Mitt Aubin's Book Review:

     Bill Nye the Science Guy's: Great Big Dinosaur Dig really inspires kids into wanting to learn more about dinosaurs.  After all, what kids don't like learning about dinosaurs? Since dinosaurs lived on earth so long ago, reading about them almost seems like science fiction; yet they were real. Dinosaur digs have proven that dinosaurs really did once roam our earth.   It may have been sixty-five million years ago but they have never been forgotten.  Celebrity scientist, Bill Nye, tells kids everything they ever wanted to know about dinosaurs.  Bill Nye teaches kids about dinosaur fossils, how dinosaurs behaved, what they ate,  and how they eventually developed into birds!  More than thirty different species of dinosaurs are discussed. Included are easy to follow experiments in each chapter. What a great way to practice the steps in the scientific method and simultaneously use project based learning (PBL).This book comes highly recommended for home or at school.     

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