My favorite description of project-based learning comes from Heather Wolpert-Gawron’s elevator pitch in her article “What the Heck is Project-Based Learning?”
“PBL is the act of learning through identifying a real-world problem and developing its solution. Kids show what they learn as they journey through the unit, not just at the end.”
Students at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School wrestled with real-world problems this week as three Lower School grade levels launched Project-Based Learning units with engaging entry events.
Entry events are intended to spark students’ interests, to get their curiosity pumping, and to push students to ask more and more questions. They are the launch to the unit that opens possibilities for future learning.
Grade 2 students began the inquiry process with a driving question related to their unit on landforms and habitats: How might we create a tool to raise awareness for endangered species?
Students participated in a chalk talk, a visible thinking routine from Harvard’s Project Zero, where they were given pictures of evidence of human impact on natural habitats. What do you see? What do you think? What do you wonder? The pictures of barren lands that used to be lush, a displaced owl, and a mountain range were just some of the photos that started the thought process. Silently wandering the room, students added thoughts to each of the pictures, gallery walking afterwards to see what their peers shared.
Grade 3 students jumped into their unit on Citizenship and Civic Life by watching their teacher be “arrested” by Sandy Springs Police Department’s Officer Mike. Mr. Thompson, the arrested, stated out loud and publicly that third graders should receive more homework! The “arrest” was intended to shock students, making them wonder if it’s okay to arrest someone because you disagree. As they debated about laws, rights, and rules, their teachers recorded their curiosities and questions for future exploration.
After the initial entry event, students studied the First Amendment using Harvard’s Project Zero See/Think/Wonder visible thinking routine to begin their quest towards their driving question: How might we design a tool that informs and empowers citizens to act on their rights and responsibilities for positive change?
Grade 4 students embarked on their Exploration unit with an expedition to our local park to explore the space and determine what might be included in this park’s museum. What might we want to archive? Students explored while note taking in their inquiry journals, finally landing on one artifact in each group to explore further. Classroom iPads catalogued the artifacts they couldn’t take back with them.
After this entry event, students learned about their new task at hand: How might we bring the Golden Age of Exploration to life by building an exhibit for a MV Museum? A future mini-lesson on The Age of Discovery will help them become even more curious about exploration and spark continued wonders and curiosity they will look forward to researching.
With the help of these entry events, our students will begin to identify what they know and need to know to better address their driving questions throughout their units: human impact on the environment, citizens engaging in their communities, and bringing an historical age to life within a museum. These entry events are just the beginning of an engaging, deep dive into complex problems in real-world contexts.