One of Westminster’s first grade teams, under the leadership of Karen Anderson are interested in having their students engage in project-based learning. Karen and her team design many of their lessons in language arts, math, and social studies around projects that integrate the content and skills they are teaching. On a recent visit to their classroom, I was greeted by 18 1st grade students preparing for a math project, Westminster Lumber Company.
The project cleverly integrated math, art, some social studies, and language arts. To understand the integrated nature of the project it is important to know that students has recently discussed Presidents during the week of Presidents’ Day, specifically Lincoln and his Log Cabin. In math they were working on understanding money and combining different amounts (adding and subtracting). The outline of the project was:
- Assemble a construction crew and come up with a name.
- Each member of the crew creates a drawing of a log cabin.
- The crew decides on the final drawing they will build.
- Each crew has $100 to buy materials (logs).
- The crew creates a budget plan of how many logs and which type they will buy staying within their budget.
- They go to the Westminster Lumber Company and buy their logs (Lincoln Logs). Different size and color logs cost different amounts.
- Their object is to build a sturdy cabin spending the least amount of money.
- The group has to discuss their plan and decide who should do what job in the construction.
- Members of the group had to complete a self-evaluation and group evaluation.
As I watched teachers and students work together, I was impressed with the variety of skills students had to use as they navigated through the project. They had to:
- Draw (create)
- Problem solve
- Make decisions
- Apply the math
The expectations designed into the Westminster Lumber Company placed students into a relevant learning experience and required that they learn and apply ’21st Century skills.’ The classroom was lively, noisy, purposeful, full of questions, and a challenging space in which to learn.
Here are three short video clips: (1) project guidelines; (2) girls building their log cabin; and (3) boys buying at the Westminster Lumber Company.
Materials that describe the project.
Girls building their log cabin.
Boys buying their logs at the Westminster Lumber Company.
In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. While allowing for some degree of student “voice and choice,” rigorous projects are carefully planned, managed, and assessed to help students learn key academic content, practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking), and create high-quality, authentic products & presentations.
For these 1st graders, the Westminster Lumber Company project centered around a complex question, “Can you build a study log cabin with the least amount of dollars?” They had to draw a good prototype, decide on what pieces to buy, figure out if they fit within the budget, and construct a model of their drawing. Through the experience they had to communicate with members of their group, collaborate and share responsibilities, and negotiate when there was disagreement. At the conclusion of the project, they will be asked to write a reflection on their work, as well as the group’s effort.
The two teachers had to: (1) plan the project and anticipate the issues that might arise; (2) teach students the important content they would need to solve the problem; (3) facilitate highly energetic groups; and (4) guide the groups as they struggled with the different elements of the project. Throughout the experience they had to maintain patience as the organized chaos gradually led to groups of students producing sturdy log cabins.
From my observations, students and teachers were having loads of fun and learning a great deal.