by Abby Schneiderjohn
I’m currently an elementary school teacher in San Jose, CA. This year, I’m teaching fourth grade at Steindorf STEAM School, a new Project Based Learning and STEAM Magnet school that opened in August 2016. I am passionate about planning and implementing projects that engage and support all learners, while developing early foundational skills in the primary grades. I believe wholeheartedly that engaging all students in rigorous, authentic learning is the best way for students to develop 21st century competencies. As a teacher, I work each day to engage, empower, and enact knowledge.
My first teaching job out of college was at a PBL school: Charter School of Morgan Hill, in California. I was immediately impressed with the positive school culture, high student engagement, and strong family involvement that is so typical of PBL schools. Throughout my teaching career, I have been able to see firsthand the positive effects of this type of teaching and learning. I am always inspired by my students and how they take ownership and pride over their learning through PBL.
Favorite Project – and a Reminder About Formative Assessment
My favorite PBL project is Digging for Dinos. This is a second grade project planned by my previous grade level team at Katherine Smith School in San Jose. It is a cross-curricular project, with a focus on language arts and science content. After students dug up a dinosaur fossil in our school garden, they began exploring the driving question, “What happened to the dinosaurs?” Through inquiry and investigations, students created a digital book about their favorite type of dinosaur. After exploring different theories of extinction, they also wrote a paragraph about which theory of extinction they thought was the most plausible, based on evidence they had discovered. Students also created their own dinosaurs based on specific measurements as a math deliverable. At their Dinosaur Museum, students made their work public to families and visitors, and even ended with a Dino Stomp Flash Mob! After the project, students reflected during our class meeting to share their favorite parts.
During the Digging for Dinos project, I was so excited about how much hands-on learning was taking place. We had found so many interactive activities for students to learn about fossils and how they are created. However, a huge mistake that I made was assuming that “hands-on” meant “minds-on.” A few days later, a student brought in a chicken bone from dinner and told me they had found a fossil! In that moment, I realized that I had done no formative assessment along the way to ensure my students understood the difference between a bone and a fossil. This story always reminds me that formative assessment is key to finding evidence of learning throughout a project.
My Work With BIE
I am honored to have the opportunity to work with educators who are either beginning or continuing their journey with Project Based Learning. It is truly a gift to be able to work with educators who are passionate about doing what is best for their students. I love to hear teachers talk about the projects that they are planning or have implemented in their classroom! I learn so much with each conversation I have, and take away so much from every workshop I facilitate.
As we prepare our students for an ever-changing world, it is so exciting to hear about the innovative, engaging projects that are being planned and implemented in classrooms around the world. My advice is to stay connected with other educators through this process - just like our students, we can learn so much from our peers!
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