I have always been a slight over-achiever. I like to do well. I’ve always liked to please my teacher (can you hear me groveling @brandonhooverr?). And I’ve always tried to make a name for myself and set myself apart from my peers. These expectations benefited when I had the opportunity to collaborate with like-minded peers because more great minds can take things to the next galaxy. But this need to do well had devastating effects when I worked with social loafers. That said, some of my fondest (and whatever the opposite-of-fondest is) memories stem from project-based learning when I was in school. Those moments were so few and far between that I can remember each and every one of them!

Problem Making

My excitement and enthusiasm for project-based learning did not wane once I became a teacher. Instead, I relished in any opportunity I could think of to group students, teach them how to work collaboratively, team them up to challenge one another, or to regroup like-interest students so they could share their understanding in a way that suits them!

My favorite aspects of project-based activities is that they allow students to investigate an open-ended question in a more transdiciplinary way. These projects focus more on concepts rather than content (hoorah!) and allow students to work together or create something they care about (no presentations should be a one-size-fits-all model!) As a teacher, my job is to facilitate feedback and reflection as well as support their quest to inquire and think critically. This has become so important to me that I’ve restructured our 2nd grade social studies and science summatives in a project-based way (thanks STEM standards at NGSS@NSTA!). Currently, my 2nd graders are wrapping up a science unit about how animals and plants survive in different habitats. Their summative assessment requires them to “Make a sketch, drawing, plan, or model to design a solution to a human problem taking inspiration from plants and animals.” Pig tails, elephant trunks, sunflower solar tracking, and root systems have inspired students to “boing their toys away, stay cool in the South African heat, turn on their bedroom lights, or share resources with other people like a seed is moved around the environment.” The ideas generated through this problem were fascinating. Despite the lack of technology (they’re using recyclables and junked materials), the creation, ingenuity, and tinkering is very techy (check out some of their learning).

Problem: We get in trouble when we leave our toys all over our room
Creation:  Backpack with Octopus-Inspired Arms and Sticky Tentacles
New Problem: How do we power it?

Problem: I get hot outside and I want to cool down
Solution: Water Bottle with an Elephant Trunk

Problem: We get in trouble when we don’t clean our room
Invention: Pig Curly Tail Inspired Cleaning-Up Tool


It is clear that none of these inventions will change the world as we know it. But they are a start of SO many great ideas. And by allowing the students to show understanding by challenging them rather than expecting them to regurgitate they have exceeded expectations on all fronts. Sure, they can regurgitate the basic plant, animal, and habitat knowledge, but they can apply that knowledge in new ways. Problem making flips Blooms Taxonomy on it’s head!

Now what?

So now I’m a bit worried. Why is project-based learning considered the past? This is a part of my craft that I love and am passionate about. I’m so worried my skill-set is no longer looking towards the future. When did I miss the boat?