Project based learning can have a real impact in your classroom. Some may think it’s only for older students but my 2nd grade students loved it! I was thinking long and hard about some of the best real life learning experiences I’ve seen over the years and it’s always been the ones where kids have had choice. Sometimes kids know what they are good at and other times they listen to others to tell them. It’s been my experience that kids need to be taught what to look for. I don’t necessarily mean in a look and see way, but more in a self reflection way. Why is this important? When kids become more reflective and are given opportunities to try new things and/or practice things that they like doing, their learning soars!
In my first post on Real Life Learning (if you missed it click here), I talked about all the things that I wanted for my students in their learning experiences. This is deeper learning my friends. Rich, engaging learning experiences. I’m talking about flipping my role as a teacher and being more of a facilitator. What do you think about those possibilities?
You might ask yourself, but how will they learn if I don’t teach them? You will be teaching them! It just looks differently and you spend less time talking and more time being a part of their learning.
I decided that to move students forward in this way, they need to see that learning is relevant to them. Yes, we want students to have a growth mindset. Yes, we want students to take brain breaks. Yes, we want learning to be fun. But what if it isn’t? Brain researchers and cognitive and behavior scientists have been writing about this emerging school of thought and have found personalization and student-centered learning to be key to mastery of skills because kids enjoy the learning more.
I decided that I wanted to expand on my years of personalized learning ( Passion Projects and Genius Hour are a great place to start) and key in more on some very important learning variables by integrating the curriculum in a cohesive way while still maintaining the choice based personalized learning.
Kids are never too young to start thinking about their future and what kinds of jobs may be open to them. This way they can focus on their strengths and areas that need developing with a little guidance from you, their teacher. In primary, we look at community helpers and the kinds of things they do to keep us safe. I decided to take a look at this notion of careers and skills at the 3rd to 5th grade level and in terms of THINKING. How do Mathematicians think? How do Designers think? What kinds of jobs would these types of thinkers have in the future. Instead of asking our students – “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, we can ask them, “What kinds of things are you interested in?”
I know first hand after having both my kids graduate in the last couple of years that graduation year is SO stressful for them. They have been learning skills for years but cannot always tie those skills to real life. Suddenly, they are being asked what they would like to do or be after they graduate. The problem is that many really don’t know because they have not been exposed to linking their skills, interests and talents to any concrete career. Besides, careers are changing so rapidly, many of the jobs I had will not exist in the current form in a few years. This is what motivated me to create this new series with our elementary students.
One of the best ways to create learning tasks and environments for students to thrive in is to teach through project based learning. This way, students are involved in projects where they can learn and practice very important communication skills. (I wrote about communication skills in this blog post.)
By project based learning, I am referring to learning that is relevant to the learner and also to the curriculum. It’s a way to integrate learning so that students are using many thinking skills to problem solve through working together and taking on different responsibilities within a group. This is much like the real world in a work environment. In the next year, I will be focussing on creating rich resources that will help your students explore project based learning that will be socially responsible and use less paper.
I created these “Think Like a …” posters to introduce kids to future possibilities based on their strengths and interests. I thought it was a great starting point for moving towards new learning opportunities for kids and a more important role for you as their teacher – that of facilitator of learning. The facilitator being one that teaches skills in a coaching method, monitors students for growth, and moves them forward by asking essential questions, promoting collaboration and self reflection. No matter what your curriculum looks like, real life learning can be the driver of your students’ learning.
Next time we will explore how project based learning can fit into any curriculum and how integrating subjects is an effective way to establish deeper learning and create excitement around learning.