Thursday, May 9, 2013

Authenticity

by Danielle Scroggins, 5th Grade Teacher @ Carson Elementary

As a fifth grade teacher, I have embraced, adopted and plunged forward with Project Based Learning this year.  Many of my colleagues in other grades levels thought I was crazy trying to adapt this teaching method for such young students, but I pressed onward knowing that my gut was pulling me the right direction.

It's definitely been a different kind of school year.  My students struggled at the beginning of the  year with the philosophy, the process, and the PRODUCTS.  Our first projects were a disgrace to projects.  They completely missed the boat, and concentrated more on the awesomeness of their imovie than the content that imovies was intended to showcase.  From that point, we reflected, made some logistical changes and learned together what the best fit scenario was for PBL in my elementary classroom. 

The projects improved with each guiding question, and my students really learned to embrace research, summarization, and presentations.  Their skills were honed as they worked through google to find that perfect piece of information, and their projects morphed from "all about an imovie" into simple posters if that's what they felt like it took to "get their point across."  The learned to use the rubrics I provided as a checklist to keep them on a timeline, and more than anything, they learned to work through their own problems--within a group, and within a project.  It wasn't a perfect classroom every single time, and if you walked in to monitor the process, you'd definitely describe it as crazy town, but it was our Crazy Town--and we began to own it.

I'm in the midst of my last project now, and my hopes are sky high.  We recently participated in a Field Day at our local LBJ National Grasslands, and had the opportunity to hike three miles and travel through science stations while experiencing the ecosystem (and using ipods to document their experiences!). Since we'd covered ecology in class, the students really amazed me in their interest of a "real ecosystem," and "what went on at these grasslands."  Upon our return, I presented them with the guiding question, "How can we advertise the local resources available to our community through the LBJ National Grasslands?"  Their interest level skyrocketed (to my jaw-dropping amazement) when I suggest that the Decatur City Council had proposed leveling the Grasslands in favor of a housing development.  While they know this is a pretend scenario, I had students wanting to actually present their research and advertisements to the City Council.  They are writing petitions, commercials, brochures, websites, and stories on the Grasslands and discovering who this phantom "LBJ" person was that established all the National Parks.  They are shocked to know that the National Park System had to be established in the first place, and determined to communicate that these National Parks should not be erased. 

Authenticity is one of the major factors in a PBL project, and one that can be hard to find--especially when your audience is a classroom of eleven year olds more focused on Taylor Swift's last release.  But THIS project--it HAS captured them, and in MAY to boot!  I can't wait to see what they actually come up with, and I have contacted friends in the city council and other local organizations to give my students an opportunity to actually present to the community.  When they heard that, they stepped up their game--and I'm loving that my class is a game to them.


Danielle Scroggins is a 5th grade teacher at Carson Elementary School in Decatur, Texas where she teaches math and science.  Mrs. Scroggins is a Decatur ISD FUTURE READY mentor and was asked to be a contributor to this blog. I look forward to seeing more posts from her in the future! 

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