2nd Graders Take on Fairy Tales with PBL

While working through the goal of renewing her National Boards, 2nd grade teacher Amy Opitz found that she was focusing on using technology in more creative ways to communicate and collaborate. 

Through her process, Opitz connected with a school in Corbin, KY and they shared the story Jack and the Beanstalk.  With this story exchange, the 2nd grade teachers at Johnson Elementary were launched into a Project Based Learning (PBL) experience where they were able to collaborate with Art teacher, Jennifer Flynn, Librarian Marie Zimmerman, and Spanish teacher, Julie Dashley to create a cross discipline and cultural approach to learning about fairy tales.

In our initial planning meeting, I worked with Opitz to create a PBL plan that they could use as a springboard for learning.

As Opitz explains "The goals for the PBL featured lesson were for students to become responsible for their own learning through a social learning environment infused with discussions and problem solving using technology. Learning occurred as students collaboratively engaged in constructive modes to gain understanding of how versions of the same story compared/contrasted to show a central message, lesson, or moral using a t-chart and Venn Diagram through books and discussions."

The Plan
Through this slide show, you can see some of our initial planning:

With the standard "RL2.2 Recount Stories including fables and folktales from diverse cultures and determine their central message, lesson and moral" as the main idea, we developed the driving question: How do versions of the same story compare and contrast to show a central message, lesson or moral?

Connecting Beyond the Walls of the Self Contained Classroom

The Fairy Tale PBL experience naturally lent itself to collaboration across different classes. According to 2nd grade teacher Jerri Payne "We decided to have the kids compare versions of the same tale.  They did this in Spanish, Art, as a whole classroom, and as a small group. As a team, we gathered as many books as we could. We also went to the library and got some books".  

The unit, as the teachers worked to develop it, hit on standards across many disciplines. Art teacher Jennifer Flynn explains that "Classroom teachers often don’t realize the number of standards they can cover within one PBL unit – and multiple disciplines’ standards can often exist together in one unit effortlessly."

The collaboration between classroom teachers, World Language and Art, helped to open up doors to new possibilities, and helped to really enrich the teaching and learning practices of students and teachers.  When it comes to these type of collaborations, Flynn shares that "Any form of teacher collaboration broadens opportunities we provide for our students, as it inherently opens the door to educators who view the curriculum from different perspectives. Within the field of art, along with other specialty areas, creative problem-solving fluidly meanders throughout our classroom experiences, in its natural habitat. Solutions that specialty teachers see or consider are often very different, as we see the world with a different lens (which is exactly what we are trying to provide to our students)."

Flynn further explains the importance of looking for collaborative opportunities. "Any time an additional perspective is brought to light, it will either illuminate a possibility that needs to be utilized, or it will help you clarify the specifics of your original viewpoint"

Using Technology Tools to Help Guide Learning

From the basics of this plan, the second grade team was able to meet with Art teacher Flynn to get an idea for how they could guide students through the process of PBL with an interactive digital notebook.  Payne mentions: "Jennifer created the wonderful Interactive Notebook based on our needs stated at our meeting.  We looked at it a few times and tweaked it before a final notebook was given to the students."  

The Interactive Digital Notebook that students worked with through the learning process followed the Super 3 model of research, where students consider a question and: Plan, Do, Review.  As Opitz explains, student took notes on T-Charts and Venn Diagrams to help track their understanding of the fairy tales and "[gather] knowledge of culture, characters, setting, conflict, symbols, and morals/lesson."

Using a tool like an Interactive Digital Notebook , designed for a specific learning goal, can be a helpful way to guide students through work and create a sense of continuity, especially when they are working with multiple teachers on the same topic.  Our students make use of Schoology, OneDrive and PowerPoint for these Notebooks. The benefit of using PowerPoint on the iPads is that students get the chance to use draw features to add drawings, hand written or typed text to their notes.

Payne echoes this idea "The technology was extremely helpful!  The interactive notebook kept [student] focused on what they were supposed to be doing.  It was easy to use.  Some kids typed, some drew, and some used voice to text."

Student Choice in Projects

As part of the PBL experience students were given a choice in how they shared their learning to show how different versions of the same story compared in showing theme.

2nd grade teacher Amy Opitz explains that following the exploration of the stories, students were inspired to imagine possibilities and given choice. "This led them to imagine how they would use their new knowledge of fairy tales and apply it to a product of their own: Bloxels Game, iMovie, Book, Comic, Song, etc. A student’s product would be created by rewriting a story of choice and changing an aspect of it: setting, conflict, combine two stories, etc."

This choice is important in the PBL classroom.  As Flynn points out "
Within PBL, we encourage choice and most especially, discovery. It creates an atmosphere where students seek to uncover new information and answer their own questions, but then also excitedly share that information with one another.  It becomes real."

Students were able to use a variety of digital tools - iMovie, PuppetEDU, PowerPoint, and Bloxels; as well as hands on materials to create things like dioramas and works of art under the guidance of Flynn.

To help guide project design, students used a format of Design Thinking we have been working with this year called ICE:

For project in general, students used a "generic" ICE notebook to help them plan.

For creating a Bloxels game, students were encouraged to work through a Bloxels digital notebook:

Once kids get started into the project development phase it can be hard to get them to focus on planning.  They are generally so enthused and ready to go, that it's difficult to slow them down.  As Payne notes: "...On the ICE and Bloxel ICE we want to modify them slightly for next year.  Some of the kids who did Bloxels strayed quite a bit from their plan.  They got into the game and forgot they had to stick to the Fairytale/Folk tale guidelines.  A slide that makes them select all the "Fairytale/Folk tale" attributes they want to include in their game might help.  (ie - good vs evil, happily ever after, once upon a time, magic 3, three challenges/conflicts, etc.).

Formative assessment in the form of frequent student checks and conferences, is critical to helping guide students through developing a project. Reflecting on this type of formative assessment feedback is a good part of PBL on the part of teachers and can really help in the success of future projects.

Opitz comments on the learning that occurred when she shares "The fairy tale PBL engaged my students in individual learning opportunities/activities which allowed me to assess their transfer of knowledge. The PBL gave students a purpose for learning and presented them with a meaningful learning experience that helped them retain information at a greater rate than traditional teaching methods. It also ensured equity of access and promoted appreciation of diversity among the students"

Student Examples

Check out a couple of the examples of student created projects below:



Original Story Formats

Payne mentions "My favorite part was seeing how excited they were to start their projects, how focused they were on the projects, and their excitement at sharing their projects."  Flynn echoes this idea when she explains that "within PBL, we encourage choice and most especially, discovery. It creates an atmosphere where students seek to uncover new information and answer their own questions, but then also excitedly share that information with one another. It becomes real." 

PBL as a Process

For a first time through with PBL, second graders shared their projects only with their classes, but as Payne mentions "I would like to add a component where the kids can show their projects to more than just our class.  They really ran with this and were so proud of themselves!" For a first time through with a project like this, the kids did an awesome job and the teachers were able to gain some valuable experience that will allow them to create a more public forum for presentations in the future.

Within the context of the learning experience, it should also be noted that Project Based Learning is very much a process, so the process that was used this year will need to continuously be refined as teachers explore their own experience and the reactions of their students. Flynn explains that
"PBL forces you to let go. It forces you to clearly identify the ultimate goals and eliminate the unnecessary. PBL brings students into the role of active researcher, and responsible for discovering, planning, designing, reflecting, and more – skills that extend beyond subjects, grade-levels, and school walls."


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