Chirp, Swoosh, an Author Celebration!

Author: Audrey Lash, Second Grade Teacher.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written. We just wrapped up our showcase / author celebration for our animal project. Our PBL was focused on, “How can we effectively improve the schoolyard habitat so that plants and animals can survive?”

This project involved research on our choice animals, nature walks, April Pulley Sayre read alouds, and collaboration with first grade soil experts. Students had to take on their chosen animals’ perspective. What would it be like to be your animal at our school habitat? How would they survive? How would they thrive in their life cycle? We began to write April Pulley Sayre narrative nonfiction texts to inform our principal and our school of why our specific animal should come back. We tried to prove and visualize how they would survive and we determined which parts of our research was important to share and added that to our stories.

Finally, we shared these stories in an open author celebration. The whole school was invited. Younger and older students voted on which animal they’d like to see come back based on our stories. Here are a few exemplars:

We tallied the votes across our 6 second grade classes. Hummingbirds seemed to win. We will be planting and creating a brand new garden based on our research of these birds with the help of our master gardeners. The students are so very excited! We’re anxious to get our hands dirty!

Checkout our journey in this project. (Past Posts)

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Schoolyard Habitat PBL Update

Author: Audrey Lash, Second Grade Teacher.

My last post spoke about how infused our content was with our PBL.

Our driving question: How can we effectively improve our school garden so that plants and animals can thrive?

So, how’s it going? Where are we? Truths… What are the up’s and down’s?

First some pictures…


We’ve planted our own plants. We’re watching them grow and documenting changes.  Are they thriving? Why or why not?


We’ve analyzed and evaluated the failed garden. What worked? What didn’t? We even took a nature walk / scavenger hunt to see what our animals would see and need.

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We’ve done research on our native animals (bats, owls, cardinals, butterflies, frogs, and hummingbirds) and key elements: habitat, life cycle, predators/prey, adaptations, and survival.

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We’ve had guest speakers from our Hamilton County Master Gardeners.



So, now we’re at the pivotal point – information overload. Students have all their information in research journals and plant journals. That’s the scariest part in PBL. What will the students do with all this information? How well will they apply it? We’ve set out to use all of our research, findings, and our plant growth to make our garden better, but also inform our principal on how we’d like to bring these animals back. Students have chosen their native animal to bring back. In similar animal groups, they brought their information together to collaborate and use what other students might have found that they didn’t.

Our students are writing narrative nonfiction stories with mentor texts like April Pulley Sayre. She’s an artist of words and bringing an animal’s views to life. It’s been hard to muddle through perspective with our students. It’s been scary to let go of the information and see how students apply it. We’ve only just begun our stories. Here are a few exemplar beginnings…

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“In a new and improved garden, a red and black cardinal moved into the bush and laid her eggs. She needed to go back into the woods to find…”

“Wings flap. Beaks chirp. All over America cardinals fly…”

The end goal is for them to use this type of narrative nonfiction to inform our principal about what it’d be like to bring this animal back to our garden. They can dream up what the new garden would look like or think about how the animal fares with the old and new garden. They choose how the story for the animal unfolds. After they write their story, they’ll add the common short facts under the story like April Pulley Sayre does. Notice, students have left room for these nonfiction research facts in the bottom right corner. We did try writing the facts first without the story. We found ourselves confused as writers. We took a step back and tried to think about … What would April do? We decided to write the story line first. That’s really helped us visualize how we’ll layout our research. Our principal will choose the most reasonable animal and new garden plan to implement. We’ll buy plants according to the animal and plan chosen. Thankfully, we’ve got first grade collaborators, too. They’re covering our soil and giving us research on how vital it is to plant growth. – Without the right soil, you don’t have plants. Without plants, you don’t have insects and animals.

I’m anxious and excited to let go and see what they want to do with their information. Will they create stories that portray a new garden? Will they be able to visualize what it’d be like for that animal to arrive? (their hardships and survival) Will this new garden be better off with this information? It’s in the students’ hands. And, that’s PBL. 



Content Tied with a PBL Bow

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 ( 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!




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 (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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