What do you do when a PBL fails?

Author: Audrey Lash, Second Grade Teacher.

You reflect. 

You reflect with the kids that went through the project.

But, the best news, you let the kids the following year revise it and improve it for you.


I’m on a “PBL high”  (if there is one). Teacher excitement? As you may know, our 2nd grade classes came off an amazing business PBL.  Students were engaged and full of energy from our business fair. We try to create learning inquiries and experiences that are back-to-back in our grade level. We’ve designed a total of 7 PBLs for our school year.

Last year, in our initial creations we worked from a Schoolyard Habitat PBL model from BIE and pblu.org. (check it out) We did revise it some to fit our students, our school, and our grade level standards. Students were posed with the problem being a brand new school that had taken over the habitats of many animals. We asked our kids, “How can we make the school habitat better so that animals can live on our campus?”

Students heard from experts like master gardeners and the Hamilton County Parks and Rec. They assumed voice and choice by choosing native animals to our community and state. They based this around the knowledge they had gathered from our experts. They researched specific plants that these native animals would need. We quickly learned it was all about the plants. You need plants to bring animals and bugs. It was an exhilarating time! Students were “research machines” gathering numerous amounts of information. They took on critical thinking through deciding where on our campus the habitat should go and even drew designs of what it might look like. Students then presented in front of 8-9 stakeholders in our school. A butterfly garden was chosen! We bought the plants, shovels, and mulch.

Our tragic flaw… We rushed this final implementation of the actual garden. It was the end of the year. We tried to dig deep enough, but our ground was still clay. Some bricks were even found from the past construction zones. We attempted parent volunteers and watering helpers for the summer. Sadly, the garden died. As our principal would say, “It’s an eye sore.”

As a 2nd grade team, we decided that out of failure – new life can “spring forward”. This presented the perfect problem based inquiry. “How can we improve our habitat so that plants and animals can thrive? Students were recently presented with an entry event video newscast. They watched pictures of what it looked like before summer and now. They heard from past students that loved the project, but had no idea what it looked like today. They heard from a student from this class, the principal, and our head of grounds and maintenance. All of them asking us to PLEASE do better. The pressure is on, but I think that makes the project more purposeful and exciting. These students have a better understanding that making a habitat is HARD WORK. As one student said, “Mrs. Lash, it’s easy to read about habitats. It’s harder to make one.” I love that PBL has allowed us to not stop the learning at one year and class. We can have classes learn from each other and be invested in inquiry throughout their school careers. The life-cycle of a plant and animal depends upon their habitat and how well we can help it survive. I can’t wait to see what this year’s class thinks of and if we can keep this garden in better shape.

Updates to follow.


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Before                                                                 After


One thought on “What do you do when a PBL fails?

  1. Pingback: Content Tied with a PBL Bow | PBL in Second Grade

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