George Lucas Educational Foundation

5th Grade

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I recently started teaching a group of 10 students. I work at an Inner city public school here in Kentucky. We are trying to present education in a new way to these students. I love the idea of project learning. I would like to try adding pieces of it to my own room. Being in public school, I still have to hit the required core-content and this seems like it can easily clash with Project learning. I was curious if anyone had some resources or advice that could help me get me started.

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Tristan de Frondeville's picture
Tristan de Frondeville
Project Learning Consultant for PBL Associates

Hello Daniel, and welcome to the group, and to project learning.
Before we all chime in, can you share what ideas in project based learning attract you? If we can connect our comments to your initial attraction, then I think we can answer in more focused and helpful ways.
Teachers are always concerned about 'coverage' and rightly so. I have two quick ideas on that.

First, I have read at least 50 books by great teachers on how they 'did their magic.' Almost everyone of those books devotes an entire chapter on "When I let go of the coverage pressure and covered a little less, then I really started being successful." This speaks to something elemental about coverage, and I would like to say more about this, but will leave room for others to chime in first. Also, in Malcolm Gladwell's "Outliers," he makes repeated arguments that in education and knowledge, there is a powerful concept of 'just enough.' I feel that this also speaks to being aware that coverage is important, but too much coverage is somehow detrimental. As a colleague in North Carolina said, "I have been in this education business 50 years and I have never seen them throw out a standard."

Second, whenever coverage comes up, I ask teachers, "Do you know how the bottom 50% of your class did on the standardized tests last year?" Sometimes they don't, but it is critical data. Often when we hurry along, we leave behind the bottom of the class. As I grew in my teaching career, I prided myself on how deeply 'into my class list' I could go to inspire and get kids 'back on the bus' of being engaged and involved in school and learning. Too much coverage can leave students who have not been engaged in school and learning 'bouncing behind the bus, tied by the most tenous of strings.'

Tristan de Frondeville's picture
Tristan de Frondeville
Project Learning Consultant for PBL Associates

Before everyone chides me on 'slowing down' and leaving the top of the class behind, I will promise to speak to that at a later point :)

Cristina Tuckness's picture
Cristina Tuckness
MarCom Specialist, Educator

Hi Daniel:
I am also a fifth grade teacher in a socio-economically disadvantaged area in California. Here's how I use PBL:
We do the surface info from the textbook, videos, interactive 2.0 apps via Promethean Board, etc. Then our class has a conversation where I pose Revised Bloom's Taxonomy questions. We take notes on a poster figuring out where we are in understanding. Then, we discuss how we are going to start our projects using procedures.

Standards and project options are your first step. Decide what choices you will give your students, and start with a big idea or question that your students need to answer or define. This can usually be stated as an objective or higher-level question. Next, come up with a rubric that will show your students what you are looking for-- this is where the standards & core content come into play. has a rubric maker that rocks!

Once your students have decided on a plan, you can give them options for different learning styles, like individual projects, partner projects, or small group projects. You could also start your first project with a jig-saw, so that everyone gets a little bit of info, then brings it together to make one big class project. After the students see how it works, they might be ready for more responsibility.

Tools for research can include all the resources you used to teach in the first place, like textbooks, videos, Internet, live sources, etc. so you are not only going deeper in the thinking process, but reviewing as well.

Good luck, and have fun! If you have any questions or comments, feel free to dm me.

Jeannie's picture

I am a fifth grade teacher and I do a lot of project based learning. I don't understand why this would clash with core-content. My students generally go beyond the standards when they do projects. An example of what I might do is have students read from a few chapters of the text book (lets say the chapters on Native Americans)in groups. Each group focuses and takes notes on one aspect of the content (one group on housing, another on food, etc). Then I'll split those groups up and make new groups (jigsaw) that have one student from each of the previous groups. Now I'll ask each new group to share the info they go in their last group, then focus on something different (Native Americans from a particular region of N. America) while looking through library books about Native Americans. They use the notes they had from the first group to figure out what else they need to know or what they want to know more about. Then the groups give presentations with a poster and a skit (or one other thing like a brochure or menu). It works really well and the students learn so much more than they would from teacher-directed learning.

Erika Saunders's picture
Erika Saunders
6th-8th Special Ed, LS & Mentally Gifted teacher

With any new technique or strategy, try starting small and building your skills and comfort level. Look at your content you have to cover. See where there are places for students to demonstrate their knowledge or mastery. Instead of having them take a regular test or write a paper, create a project that will enable them to demonstrate their knowledge.

When I first began, I found writing assignments the easiest place to insert a little PBL. We didn't have as many mandates or "coverage" around it writing so I could be more flexible. But there are so many places you could sprinkle at little "PBL" in! After studying setting, I had my students adapt a standard fairy-tale with a new setting. Rather than have them just write a new story (or take a written test on setting), they had to select a critical part of the story where the new setting really had an impact and create a 3-D model of the scene showing how setting made a difference. And this was with students with learning disabilities!

Try to be creative and begin in an area that's already comfortable for you. Don't start with your most challenging subject area. Go with the one your feel most confident in and then try it out. Get the kids involved and see what ideas they have. I've gotten some of my best ideas from students!

Good luck! You may find that once you got PBL, you'll never want to go back!!!

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