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Posted by on in Project-Based Learning



Perhaps the best way to motivate and engage students is to challenge them to solve a real world problem. Project based learning is a powerful tool! while teaching skills and standards is important, embedding them within a meaningful task makes the learning last well beyond the assessment. The words of Will Richardson changed my teaching as he pointed out, "We spend way too much time on things that are taught "just in case" rather than helping kids learn "just in time".

If you are new to project based learning, but would like to give it a try, post this challenge to your students and watch them learn!

Can our class complete one week with a trash-free lunch?

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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies


With only a month left before Valentines Day, it is not too early to start planning for a treat filled with literacy skills and, most importantly, fun! Everyone has heard of People magazine, so your students will be thrilled when they hear they are going to create Friend magazine!

There are many ways to connect this activity to standards. Biography, interviewing, listening and speaking, narrative writing, poetry, or whatever literacy skills you may be working on can be incorporated!

The basic steps are:

  • Teach background in interviews and biography.
  • Brainstorm a list of questions that would be interesting to ask a friend. The questions can be as simple as, "What is your favorite sandwich?" to more involved questions like, "What is your favorite memory?"
  • Create a question list with room for answers or, with older students, have each child create their own personalized list.
  • Partner students. (There are many ways to accomplish this. Draw names, self-selection, teacher assignment, etc. It might be wise to partner students of similar writing ability so the length and quality of articles is similar between them. I have actually used this activity with pen pals in a school across town. We visited their school to conduct the interviews and they visited us to enjoy the final product. The same would work with another class in your building, either the same grade level, or perhaps, an older buddy class!)
  • Paired students conduct interviews of one another. The interviewer is responsible for writing down the answers. (This activity, of course, can easily become a digital project as well, but I always used it initially as a writing assignment. A student who has difficulty writing answers quickly, however, may benefit from recording their partner's answers.)
  • Once all the information has been gathered, each child becomes responsible for writing an article about his or her friend.
  • The articles can be written on paper or on a computer. One simple way to organize the project, if you have enough available technology, is to use a platform like Google Drive or One Drive. (My students created their articles online then shared their finished work with me. I was then able to compile a complete set of articles.)
  • As the articles are written, revised, and edited, be sure to reinforce the literacy skills you are teaching. This is a wonderful opportunity to stress details and word choice. A rubric would be an excellent way to focus the students on specific elements. Remind them that the audience will be classmates and families.
  • Each article should have a photo of the child as well. (My students took pictures of one another with iPads, but again, there are many ways to accomplish this part. With the iPad pictures, students were able to use the Educreations app to add descriptive words and character traits to the picture of their friend.)
  • Once all the articles are complete, print them, with photos, and create a magazine for each child. The cover may say Friend Magazine with a group photo if you like! (Although it is important to conserve paper and be careful with photocopy numbers, this is one project I felt was worth the expense.)
  • The magazine now becomes a reading assignment for Valentines Day. The children love reading about each other and having the magazine as a class keepsake to take home. It can even become an autograph book!

b2ap3_thumbnail_friendbam.jpgPlanning ahead can result in authentic writing and reading to be enjoyed for many years to come! Standards met, lessons learned, and friendships formed! Friendship, after all, is a matter of the heart!

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Posted by on in General


With the recent emphasis on standards, skills, and test scores in school, there has never been a more important time to be mindful of the need for imagination, creativity, and play in the lives of young students. There have been countless articles written and research projects undertaken to reinforce the need for creativity and play in the lives and education of children. Perhaps one of the most well known is the Ted talk by Sir Ken Robinson. Although the talk was presented in 2006, the problem persists, and perhaps, is even greater today. in many schools, than it was then!

Even if you are teaching in a standards or skills-based learning environment, most standards and skills-based learning can take place within creative activities. The learning will undoubtedly be more meaningful, connected, and will be more likely to result in mastery, when presented in a playful way. Here is one example I have used with both first and second graders, but can easily be adapted for any elementary grade level!

What child does not like to build a snowman? Regardless of where you live, you can make a snowman out of paper mache! Set aside one day for the messy part of this project. Cover a long table and the floor beneath with painter's plastic drop clothes. Arrange for parent volunteers and paint shirts for the kids. Send home a note in advance, asking the kids to wear old clothing. Gather balloons, newspaper (our local newspaper office has lots of old papers that they will donate) torn or cut in strips, bags of flour, large bowls or dishpans for the paper mache goop, and small plastic bowls or margarine tubs to hold the completed snowmen while they dry. I always inflated the balloons the night before, taping two together with masking tape, and storing them in large trash bags for easy access.


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