Author: Audrey Lash, Second Grade Teacher.
A failed garden from last year fueled our current PBL. Many people ask teachers at my school, “How do you fit it all in? How do you fit content standards / content time into a PBL? Do you have a separate PBL time?” It’s not a fitting into a box type of thing. PBL is not the box that holds the learning. It’s the ribbon that ties everything together. You have to start with that vision.
Our science and social studies learning is set up by the district and teachers in an organized curriculum map for the year. This guides us in which content we teach and when we teach it. In our primary grades, it’s very hard to find time to have for just science and social studies on top of the reading, writing, math, and intervention time. So, what do we do with these science and social studies standards and where do we teach them? We build around them. My team set aside time this summer to connect this learning to writing and reading. We created our own yearlong plan with reading strategies and writing genres that matched our content. We use PBL to make this learning authentic.
Our latest PBL: How can we effectively improve our schoolyard habitat so that animals and plants can thrive? From a previous post, you may know that last year’s garden failed. Failure is new learning this year!
Our science standards: Observe closely over a period of time and then record in pictures and words the changes in plants and animals throughout their life cycles. Compare and contrast details of body plans and structures within the life cycle.
These standards allow for observing and looking at the body structures of plants and animals. However, we ramp this up with creating our very own habitat to see these life cycles and specimens. We not only look at typical life cycles, but also why life cycles can fail or fall short. A habitat is vital to any living thing. We cannot grow a plant unless we have proper conditions. Animals cannot live unless they have the proper habitat. This is the basic transfer understanding that we hope to impart with our project.
First, we research and read about native animals to Noblesville, Indiana. Students have voice and choice in which native animal they’d like to research and bring back. We research aspects of their lives like habitat, life cycle, adaptations, and predators/prey. This leads to what natural plants they need to survive. Without plants that also bring insects, we cannot have animals such as hummingbirds, cardinals, frogs, and more. Students research and hear from experts (master gardeners) about native plants that will bring back these native animals. We use guided reading time and read aloud time to read nonfiction texts. We draw information from text features. We work on the reading strategy of determining importance and summarizing. We ask questions like: How can we use this knowledge to design a habitat? What’s important in this research? What’s not important? Other factors in our research will require close observation of our own plants. This brings hands-on information into how hard it is to provide such a habitat.
Second, we decide what to do with the research. Who’s our audience? How do we decide how to inform them? This is where we use writing to drive how we present the reading and science knowledge. In writing, we’ll be studying mentor texts by April Pulley Sayre (http://www.aprilsayre.com). April Pulley Sayre brings an edge to nonfiction writing. Her stories like Vulture View and Meet the Howlers are a genre of writing that pairs storytelling with nonfiction. We’ll be using narrative nonfiction to inform our audience of our native animals in their life cycles on our schoolyard habitat. Using the narrative nonfiction route, our stories will be able to not only inform our audience of school stakeholders and also provide perspective on what life would be like for the native animal. Students will have to empathize with such animals. Students will critically think about how well our animals and plants would live and thrive in our old or a future garden. Students take on a critical eye and animals’ view of our schoolyard habitat. They decide what story to tell and how they’ll bring their research alive literally.
Third, we present these stories and finding to stakeholders. They will choose the best and most reasonable garden to implement. Our principal has given them parameters in a live entry event video.
Our PBL ties all of these subjects together. On top of it, the elementary classroom allows us to work through our learning process all day. We research – hypothesize – design – create. We do this using all the subjects infused. Isn’t that what we’re looking for in learning? We give students a purpose. We’re learning about habitats and life cycles to save our schoolyard habitat. We’re automatically applying knowledge. The interesting part about this learning is that it can be reflected upon years from now. How well will this garden grow? We’ll have to maintain this learning and improve it each year with each new class. You can’t think of content in separate boxes. You have to think about how each content area can support the other. How does our reading support writing? How does our writing support reading? How can our learning support our driving question? PBL is our present to the students learning. PBL can work in the elementary grades!