by Denise Yassine, 5th and 6th Grade History Teacher
At the beginning of each school year, I discuss these quotes with my students: “Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe, and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success,” and “Mistakes are sites for learning.” I tell them that these principles are not only true for them, but they are true for their teachers. Every day, as we fashion our lesson plans, we do so fervently and vigorously with specific goals in mind, yet we must also learn from our mistakes in order to continue on the route to success. This was certainly true when it came to creating an effective project-based learning model for my classroom.
In my first years of teaching, I loved the sound of the hum when my students worked on a hands-on project. Fresh from graduate school and Jean Piaget’s theory of Constructivism, I was satisfied that they were out of their chairs and actively engaged. It didn’t take long, however, for me to realize that when questioned about their projects, they spent more time telling me about the materials they used than about the understanding and knowledge of the subject they had constructed.
As an authentic way to learn, I couldn’t image a year without a regular offering of project-based opportunities for my students. Project-based learning is rooted in learner-driven creation, collaboration, and academic choice. Their critical-thinking processes and communication skills are highly esteemed because exercising those has more lasting value than the “right” answer delivered in isolation and then quickly purged from short term memory. Well designed and executed projects leave a residue, and those experiences provide hooks upon which students place understanding. Rubrics provide authentic feedback and assessment, and guiding questions, generated by students and teacher, connect the project and real-world dots.
This school year, my students migrated like the Native Americans and worked together to provide food, shelter, and clothing. Working in small groups, they created descriptive videos detailing the key aspects from exploration to colonization. Role-play, 3D (virtual and actual) models, and numerous apps became the communication choices for a deep dive into thematic maps, Colonial Williamsburg, and globalization. As I reflect on the year, I can’t help but look forward to fervently and vigorously partnering with my students to meet the deep and rich goals that we create for learning success.
Teacher - Social Studies, Grades 5 & 6