Achieving Advanced Levels of Collaboration for PBL

Ask a group of first graders what they think in terms of the historical perspective through an examination of "the past", and they're likely to discuss kindergarten.  You can see that helping first graders lay a foundation that will allow them to develop an understanding of history, is no easy task.  

This year, the first grade team at Johnson Elementary- Mrs. Megan Bibbins, Mrs. Stephanie Perkins, and Mrs. Erin Staff - teamed up with new librarian, Mrs. Marie Zimmerman, and Art teacher, Mrs. Jennifer Flynn, to try to develop a Project Based Learning (PBL) experience that would allow their first graders to explore print and non-print sources to learn about the past and distinguish among past, present and future and give examples of change over time (KCAS: SS-P-HP-2 and SS-P-HP-S-1).

Front Loading Your Planning is Critical for Success

Initial Planning Notes
With the standards in mind, I was able to meet with the first grade team a number of times to help them think through the project.  Through discussion, as a team we came up with the guiding question: How did our past influence our present and what does that mean for our future? The team quickly realized that along with Social Studies standards, they would also have the opportunity to meet NGSS engineering standards as well as writing.

First grade teacher Megan Bibbins explained that " We wanted students to learn about schools, games, technology, and clothing of the past and use that information to compare to things of the present and predict what those things will be in the future."  As Marie Zimmerman pointed out: "There is a lot of front loading work that bring about positives later on."

Entry Event and Introduction to Important Processes.
Through countless meetings on their own and revisions to their initial ideas, the team decided on a timeline and kicked off the discussion of "Then and Now" with grandparent interviews on Grandparents' day.  

Students collected information from their grandparents about what life was like for them when they were kids and took a picture of them with their iPad.  After the visit, when things had settled down, they used the Chatterpix app to create a 30 second video that shared one of the answers their grandparents gave from their own childhood. They were able to upload the video to their Seesaw portfolios to share as evidence of their learning.   

While this was occurring in the classroom, in library, Mrs. Zimmerman introduced students to the Super 3 model of research in a shared research capacity and students got a preview of their driving question.  

See a bit about the Super 3 here:

Zimmerman guided students through using a PebbleGo article about schools.  Initially students explored information about schools during Colonial, Frontier, 1900s, 1950s, and Today and practiced some note taking strategies.  After one round of note taking and discussion it became obvious that this sort of depth initially was too much, and the classroom teachers were able to modify the expectations to include the 1950s-1970s and today.  

Through this initial process, collaboration was critical. Zimmerman pointed out "I
Revised organizer
struggled a little at the beginning with creating an appropriate graphic organizer because my former teaching experience was in middle school. Collaborating helped me to create a user friendly graphic organizer for my students." The collaboration and learning stretch proved especially useful for Zimmerman because, as she shares, "I am now able to use that knowledge in other lessons."

Managing the Middle

To help keep kids organized, teacher created "Then and Now" folders with handouts for students to use and they worked through the process of reading information on PebbleGo, note taking, exploring supplementary books with lots of pictures, watching videos and trying out activities.

When studying clothing, for example, students looked at old catalogs, and tried on "vintage" clothing that teachers brought in for centers. For games, students got to play many old games like jacks and marbles, and to get a feel for what a school was like in the 1950s, they organized their desks into rows and practiced being very quiet and not using technology.  Zimmerman, additionally showed them a clip from Little House on the Prairie: 

Research and note taking are fundamental skills that students have to practice throughout the PBL process especially when using so many forms of media and sources. Here's how Mrs. Perkins' class worked through some of the big skills as a shared research project.

Helping Students Think about the Future

During the course of this Project Based Learning experience, students were to take a look at the past, present and try to think think about possibilities for the future.  As they explored different topics with their teachers, each teacher helped them think through problems we may have today with clothing or school and ways that we might solve those problems in the future. 

Student explored in centers, discussed possibilities with each other and used graphic organizers to record ideas. In library, to help provide a context, Zimmerman showed students a clip of the Jetsons that focuses on inventions and talked to them about how people in the 1960s imagined the future:

The Project Phase

For the project phase of this PBL experience, the first grade team drew on their prior experience last year with PBL and a biomimicry unit they did last year that required students to develop a model.  For this unit, students were asked to explore problems they currently see in one of the topic areas and identify ways that those problems might be solved in the future. This proved a bit difficult for games, so during teacher led conferences students were encouraged to consider how traditional games might be improved.

First Graders exploring information about Models
In coordination with Mrs. Flynn, the art teacher, Mrs. Zimmerman introduced students to the concept of developing models during library time.  The kids used PebbleGO to learn about models and explored examples of materials they might use for creating models. 
Throughout the entire research, students had to demonstrate persistence in research and iterative design skills.  

In this clip, Mrs. Zimmerman models strategies for demonstrating persistence as an expectation for researching:

Persistence was also an expectation in the  project design process. The first graders used a model of Iterative design adapted so that they would understand the concept. In library, first graders viewed the introductory video for ICE (Imagine, Create, Evaluate):

Back in their classroom, students applied their knowledge of ICE and models to work with a partner on ICE graphic organizers to create plans for their projects.  They participated in a "materials playground" that included many of the different types of materials they could use, and conferred with teachers.  In this clip Mrs. Bibbins explains to students how they will work through the process, and also discusses with them appropriate use of ideas and creating original works - details that will help them grow into good Digital Citizens.

In partners or small groups, students worked through at least two iterations of their design before they got approval to build their models of the future.  Throughout the entire design process students are very active, working with materials, discussing possibilities and consulting with adults. Zimmerman points out "Your classroom may seem very chaotic, but the kids really are learning a lot."

Students created everything from classrooms to clothing to games of the future.  As part of the wrap up they gave short presentations to their class and took photos of their work to upload to Seesaw with reflections. Bibbins shared that "The students really impressed us with their ability to problem solve and come up with creative ideas. They were really able to apply their learning in a creative way and use higher level thinking."

Here is one student explaining his gaming console of the future:

Facilitating Project Based Learning through Collaboration

The entire Project Based Learning experience required advanced levels of collaboration and coordination across multiple environments, which I was personally excited to be part of.  That process was aided in part by the Fort Thomas Elementary Digital Conversion. 

Because students each have an iPad, Bibbins stated it "made it easy for research to happen and express their own creativity!"  Zimmerman echoed this sentiment sharing that with the iPads and through PBL " The kids are able to learn how to work creatively in a collaborative setting. PBL really requires critical thinking that is beneficial to all students. I liked being able to collaborate with the 1st grade teachers."

From the entire experience, Bibbins shared that "it's important to allow students to drive their own learning and have opportunities to create." When we do this, as Zimmerman pointed out, we can "...see how creative students can be when they have the opportunity to be critical thinkers."

Standards Addressed
Social Studies

SS -P -HP U-1 – history is an account of human activities that is interpretive in nature.  A variety of tools (primary and secondary sources) are needed to understand historical events (students will evaluate if past or present is better using tools like books, PebbleGo, Epic, and interviews)

SS P HP U 2 – history is a series of connected events shaped by multiple cause-effect relationships tying past to present (students will compare past and present)

SS-P-HP-S-1 – develop an understanding of history using a variety of tools to examine the past, distinguish among past, present and future people, places and events

SS-P-HP-S-2 Students will use print and non print sources to explore and give examples of change over time
Reading Information
RI.1.2 Identify the main topic and retell key details
RI.1.3 Describe the connection between 2 ideas or pieces of information in a text
RI.1.9 Identify basic similarities and differences between two texts on the same topic


W.1.6 with guidance and support use digital tools to produce and publish writing
W.1.7 participate in shared research and writing projects

Speaking and Listening

SL1.4 Describe things with relevant details expressing ideas and feelings clearly


K-2-ETS1-1: Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want ot change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.



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