This is a guest blog post by Margaret Hufstedler, a veteran teacher of 28 years who has taught kindergarten for the past 22 years. She is an accomplished musician, the owner of Maggie’s Kinder Corner, and co-moderator of #TeacherFriends Chat every Tuesday on Twitter. The following article features ideas for implementing project based learning using a variety of resources in your own classroom.
If you have ever been around young learners, you realize very soon that they learn best from participating in interactive activities! They really seem to thrive when you introduce music, movement, and a great deal of picture books, and provide them with access to a variety of materials that allow for self-expression.
I’m sure you have also noticed how students react when you invite a local fireman, a dairy farmer or any other community worker to your classroom? 100% buy-in! Eyes glued to the presenter. All hands raised! Opportunities such as these are the perfect springboard for project-based learning (PBL), and, because writer’s workshop lends itself toward the reporting aspect of PBL, we do many of our projects during that time. Some students are conferencing with me during writer’s workshop, while others are researching and recording information that appeals to them.
For those of you who wonder how to integrate project-based learning into current textbook lessons, here is an example from last week in my own classroom:
Lesson 18 was all about butterflies. Since it was our first PBL lesson for this year, we looked up videos and read books as a whole group. Our project was handprint butterflies, illustrations of the phases of metamorphosis, and our own writing on individual writing papers. PBL can be whole-group since kindergarteners need that support.
What do I consider the major components of PBL in kindergarten?
- Begin with a big, attention-grabbing question or example: have a guest to visit, bring in an exotic animal expert, or have a Skype visit with the zoo.
- Chart expectations and brainstorm with students what will you require for this project. For example, the project could contain these steps:
- Choose an animal to research.
- Illustrate, draw, and create the animal.
- Talk about the animal and its environment.
- Provide an “Inquiry Table” area in your classroom that includes books (in this project, we are using books about arctic animals from Zoozoo Animal World) and an iPad with links to videos about the topic you are studying. Make materials available for students to create their own project displays or story boards. Materials may include photos from magazines, a variety of writing instruments, booklets for creating “All About” books (paper stapled together works just fine), and things to make models out of (straws, poms, glue, toothpicks, popsicle sticks, etc.)
- A designated backdrop area for recording video (for instance, a snow or ice backdrop made from a blue plastic tablecloth and white paper snowflakes, or trees and leaves, etc.)
- A camera for snapping photos of students acting out the topic/animal they researched (this will go on their final project display or in a booklet they have made)
So what does a kindergarten level PBL project look like when completed?
Currently, we are discussing and researching animals that live in the coldest climates on the earth. We have books about the Arctic, Antarctica, polar animals, and weather on our inquiry table. We also have pictures of arctic foxes, polar bears, penguins, seals, walruses, narwhales and icebergs. Part of our inquiry table is our iPad “theater,” where students can view videos of animals from arctic regions.
After students gather enough information, they may write and illustrate a book about the topic they have chosen, or they can get help from or our A+ student tutor or me to help make a video report about their topic. I also have twistable crayons, markers, scraps of colored paper, animal-print paper scraps, glue, scissors, craft poms, and more available for making props for student reports.
In addition to all I have mentioned, I include stuffed animal bears, seals, and some non-arctic stuffies for students to practice categorizing by "Arctic" or "Other." ALL of this material aids in creating inquisitive, happy, productive students who are developing a love of learning.
During our butterfly unit, we had all kinds of books available to read or look at as we created our illustrations, but the one students kept returning to was the small Zoozoo Animal World book named Butterfly. It has a word count of 39, and it is perfect for independent reading. There are so many non-fiction titles to choose from in that series, too. I am excited to add to my collection as time goes by.
Are you ready to try project-based learning? Build your own inquiry center and get started today!