Saturday, October 25, 2014

How I Plan and Implement Project/Inquiry Based Learning In My Class

Project/Inquiry Based Learning has been a passion of mine ever since I discovered it about 5 years ago.  Since then, I have stepped out of my comfort zone and transformed the way I teach from a typical Thematic Based style through baby steps taken each year and with the help of an amazing on-line community of teachers with the same passion (you all know who you are!).  My first baby step was taking themes and science/social studies standards and making them more student lead and project based. I got rid of the two week time limit each theme had in the past and allowed more time for students to dig deeper.  I found that students would take my broad theme (oceans) and desire to dig deeper into more specific parts of the theme (sharks, jellyfish, ect.).  As time went on, I was able to take the biggest step and totally let go of my themes and allowed the children's interests drive my instruction, incorporating the standards through those interests.

I am blessed enough to also teach in a district that does not mandate the curriculum I use.  Curriculum programs are purchased to use as tools for our toolbox but not required. Us teachers are trusted and encouraged by our superintendent to write our own curriculum as long as the standards are met.  My building principle also has that kind of faith in us as professionals!  They know that when it comes to children learning what they need to learn, we are the experts!  Project/Inquiry Based Learning is highly encouraged in all grades Pre-K through 12.

Some wonder how I plan for this style of teaching and how it flows. Here are some of the tools that I use.

Once I notice an interest from the students (usually found out through experiences set up for them to explore during play) , I find out what their knowledge and misconceptions are about the subject.  Kind of like a KWL chart! I list all that they know about the subject we will dive into. Then I ask what they wonder.  I list all of their questions. NOW I can plan!

I take their wonderings and create a web map showing the different directions they want to take the inquiry and possible experiences that will help them find answers to their wonderings. I got this web map from the amazing Joanne Babalis and her amazing blog http://myclassroomtransformation.blogspot.com. On the back I have all of the Literacy and Math Standards listed so that I can highlight the ones we will focus on through the inquiry and project. I add any Science and Social Studies Standards to the bottom of the web map. 



Once I organize my thoughts, I create my inquiry plan using a template I created based on one I found from a Texas school district. It was so long ago I have no memory of which district but if I find out I will add them to give them credit. Their form was 3 pages long. I tweaked it to fit it all on one page. I use this to show the objectives and vocabulary, plan the investigations and materials I will need, show how they will organize the data about what they have learned, possible projects that could result from the inquiry and how we will present the project to the community. 



The next step is to start the investigation phase. In early childhood I set out experiences for them to explore and document what they notice. We also do whole group and small group investigations through books, videos and hands-on experiences. As we answer questions, we add the answers to our wonder chart to show our new learning. We organize this data in a web map format for all to see.

The start of an inquiry wall.  Information is added to it as we learn.

Once we have investigated we use organizational maps to show what we learn. In kindergarten it usually consists of web maps, circle maps, tree charts (can/have/are maps), and brace maps (to show part to whole). We will chose one or two to organize our data.





The next step is the project. We take what we learn and create something to show it! The projects can be individual, small group, or whole group.
Some examples of projects in our room have been turning an area of our room into an ocean, forest and sky to show how animals adapt in the winter. The kids signed up to be on the migration team, adaption team or hibernation team.  They each became experts on their part during the investigation and worked on their part of the project. 

A cave, forest, sky and ocean were created to show what animals do in the winter.

Animals were created, labeled and added to the habitats.

A group interested in map making and migration created this map showing migration patterns of monarchs, geese and grey whales.
Another project was our The Sound Exploration Area created for our school. They saw a need (an area to explore sound) investigated different ways of creating sound, organized the data and designed a Sound Exploration Area! 

An area for everyone in our school to explore sound which is in our science standards.
They have also turned the inside of our room into a great hall and medeival kitchen and the outside of our room into a castle wall complete with moat and drawbridge after investigating castles!

The outside of our castle.
A map created by a group interested in maps and where different castles were found in the world.
A big book created by a small group about who lived in castles. 
A small group project during our castle inquiry.
They have created murals and big books to show their learning also. 

A mural planned and created by Kindergartners.
The last step is the presentation to show what they had learned. The kids LOVE this part and I've never had a child refuse to present! They are so confident of what they have learned and proud of what they have done that they cannot wait to share it!  I am always so impress with their speaking and listening skills during these presentations! Sometimes small groups go to other classrooms and present what they learned, sometimes we invite parents or other classes to our room to see our presentation, and sometimes we create a video to share with others. They create maps, big books, and, get to show off the projects created at this time! Showing what they have learned through these projects gives the projects an even bigger sense of purpose! They can't wait to show others what they have learned and done!

Presenting different weapons used during medieval times.
I have never had so much fun teaching in my 22 years as I have he past four years!  I could never go back to the way I had done it I the past. The benefits of this way of teaching are not only meeting the standards (the old way did that too) but the 21st Century Skills they are forced to develope when they learn in this type of environment. When inquiring, investigating and creating within thier own interest, they are motivated to collaborate, problem solve, handle frustration, persist if things don't work the first time, and learn from their mistakes. They have to use critical thinking skills and develope research skills.  When kids develop these skills, they can learn ANYTHING!  

My new passion that I am learning to incorporate in my classroom is Playbased Learning! I have been amazed by the learning taking place in this way also....but that's another post!

44 comments:

  1. You are seriously such an inspiration! I'm currently teaching 5th grade and not feeling very excited about the direction I see education going. It seems that the only thing that matters are test grades. I love coming to your blog to see the amazing things you are doing in your classroom. I'm hoping to move to the lower grades at some point and will continue to visit your blog for great ideas. You give me hope that one day I will end up in a school were I'm excited about what I'm teaching, and am trusted as a professional to develop a curriculum based on what my students are interested in.

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    1. Karina,
      I had a friend who did project based learning in a sixth grade classroom when 6th grade was in the elementary buildings. She used her social studies and science standards as Inquiry topics. But the key is having a principle willing to let you take the risk and prove that this way works just as well! I remember her carrying all of her text books and putting them into the school storage closet. The principle there at the time had no problem with it! I hope that someday you can find a school that will be willing to let you have the chance to prove that Inquiry/Project Based learning gets even better results than the way they mandate teachers to teach! Good luck and keep your passion!
      Sincerely,
      Darla

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  2. Thank you for this article and resources. I'm hoping to do exactly what you've done in my first grade classroom!

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  5. I loved this post! Thank you so much for you wonderful explanation and resources! I was curious what your exploration time looks like in terms of management, your role and expectations for the kids. Thank you so much!

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  6. I really appreciate your blog. I am trying to begin Project Based Learning but keep faltering and falling back on my old, theme-based ways. I guess I’m afraid of not covering all the standards, though, of course, I know it can be done through PBL and see that you are doing it. Just lack confidence, I guess. Can you recommend any PBL trainings or do you yourself do trainings? Thanks so much for your ever-inspiring work and blog posts!

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    1. I wish that there were more PBL trainings around! Try a theme that you have taught often such as Trees/Leaves/Fall or Weather. These are good ones to start with. I still have math and literacy stations, but I also have another time of day where the kids are visiting blocks, Engineering (K'Nex, legos, magnetix, etc) clay, art, and science tables or areas. I set up experiences for them to read and document, look closer and document, plan and build, plan and create, etc. There are writing and reading opportunities at each of these areas. Most have something to do with whatever we are studying. I let kids share their documentation that they have done to show what they noticed about leaves, trees, etc. and this sharing makes other kids want to try it. Don't give up! I had to take baby steps too! I did not start this blog until after about two or three years of baby steps! Good luck!
      Sincerely,
      Darla

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  7. Hi Darla!
    Thanks again for your great blog! Would you be willing to share your daily schedule? I'm implementing writers' and readers' workshop this year and with those and teaching 30 to 40 minutes of ELD (I have all English Language Learners in my class) as well as math and mandating computer based programs, I'm finding it really hard to have time for projects and play this year. I also have a K - 1 class this year which I hoped would make me more confident about teaching in a PBL way but has only made me more anxious about all the standards to meet. Any suggestions?
    I think you're brilliant and am always sharing your blog with friends. So glad you're out there doing what's right for kids!
    Eileen

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  8. Darla,
    I love this post! We are in the beginning stages of implementing PBL in our district. Are you able to share the templates shown above? If so, I would love it! Beginning to plan is such a struggle for me.

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    1. Hi Cathy! Sorry I'm so late in replying! Email me at dmyerspa@gmail.com and I will send you the pdf's

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  9. How can I get a copy of you inquiry plan please:)?
    Thanks,

    Robin

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    1. Hi Robin! Email me at dmyerspa@gmail.com and I will send you the pdf's.

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  10. Hi Darla,

    Thank you for your exceptional and thought provoking post! I was wondering if you might be willing to share one of your completed Investigation Templates with me. I would love to see exactly what a completed one looked like and how it truly does work for you and your students. I am involved in a PD session with my teaching colleagues next week and I would love to take a further look at the template with them.

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    1. Hi Julie!
      Thank you! Send me your email address and I will email you some completed forms!
      Sincerely,
      Darla

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  11. Hi Darla,
    My name is Ann and I am a preschool teacher at Sinclair College Early Learning Center. we serve as the model classroom for the ECE Program here on campus. We are also working on project/inquiry based learning with our PreK students. I would love to here some of your ideas on planning and implementing at the preschool level. I was also wondering if you would care to share a copy of a completed web organizer and an inquiry plan template with us. I think these would both be great tools for us to use. Thank you so much for your time.
    Ann
    teaching0226@gmail.com

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    1. Inquiry through play would be perfect for preschool! So much for preschool would be process oriented...process art to explore color mixing, counting objects and matching with wooden numbers, etc. If you follow Early years ideas from tishylishy or Stimulating learning with rachel on instagram, Facebook and twitter you would get so much inspiration!!! They are amazing!!! They have amazing ideas for inquiry in preschool! If you have a chance, check them out and you will have a ton of inspiration!
      I will be blogging soon to make available my planning organizers and I will make sure to include a completed one. I have been getting a lot of requests for these! Good luck on your journey!!
      Sincerely,
      Darla Myers

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  12. Hi Darla,

    Thank you for your amazing and inspiring posts. I teach pre-k in NYC and am wondering what is the best way to start an inquiry-based project. For example, do you first ask your class a question? Start with a KWL chart? A web map? Or does every inquiry start with a different approach? Thanks so for your invaluable help!

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    1. Thank you so much for your kind words! Every inquiry seems to start differently! After I notice the kids are interested enough to dig deeper into a subject, we will usually write what we know and what we wonder similar to a KWL chart. Sometimes as we do this, I will notice most of their wonders are focused on something specific. I may use this knowledge to form a driving question. Our web maps are used to organize the information as or after we have done the inquiry.

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  13. Hi Darla,
    I am so inspired by your posts. I really want to start inquiry in my k/1 class and I keep coming here for inspiration! I am always excited to see what you are going to do next:) I was wondering if I could please have a copy of your planing sheets. That would be great
    thanks so much
    Alison

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  14. Hello Darla,
    I am adopting an inquiry/project based approach next year in my kindergarten classroom. I am wondering, are most of your inquiries entirely student-led, or do you direct some portions of the inquiry? Also, do you still teach some standards using traditional units or direct instruction? I am trying to figure out how to balance it all, and a bit fearful of not covering something along the way.

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    1. Hi Michele!

      Hi Michele! If you send me your email address, I can send you my schedule and some planning templates. They may help you out. You will see that I still had mini lessons for reading, and writing, and some math that was whole group. They were short and sweet though! Not all inquiries are student led. Sometimes, I will wonder something aloud and get them involved in my wonder. They end up wondering along with me! For example, I may wonder, “I noticed there is light blue. But is there a color that is light red? I think I will set out some paints and paper and see! Who wants to find out with me?” This may lead into an inquiry on the different shades of colors. As we experiment we may find out that every time we lighten red, we get pink. What about other colors? It could branch out from that. Sometimes I just set up an area with beautiful leaves, water colors magnifying glasses and thin permanent markers. I will show them the area and ask, “I wonder what you might discover about leaves? If you discover something and record it, I will let you share it with the class today. As they share, more wonders may pop up until we are creating a chart to record them all. Then I start reading books, showing videos, etc. that have to do with leaves to help us answer our questions, along with setting out more experiences. It usually works this way the first quarter. After I model the Wondering Mentality, they start catching on. After that, I keep my eyes and ears open to opportunities to follow their own interests. Good luck! Just set out opportunities for them to explore and use reading, writing and math while they are exploring and you will learn how to recognize how to grab onto opportunities to use teaching moments to get those standards in. It will take time. Take baby steps! You don’t have to dive in all at once! Enjoy you inquiry journey!

      Sincerely,
      Darla

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    2. Darla, Im in a similar situation and would love the same information! This is my first year teaching (ever!) , at a school that has been making the transition towards project based learning and inquires for 3 years now. I am the 1st grade English immersion teacher, the students native language is Spanish. They spend 3 hours a day iwth me learning, playing, exploring, all in English. At the same time, the majority of my assigned "objectives" are ESL objectives including reading. I would love any help or advice !

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    3. How wonderful that you are in a building that is encouraging this teaching/learning style! This is the perfect way to immerse your ESL students! At the beginning I set up areas for them to explore and see what ends up interesting them. Right now they are generic like blocks, legos, one color of paint at the easels, letters, measurement, home living area, etc. I set up one area with rocks and crystals and clip boards. Later I may set up a color mixing station. I listen to their wonders and we start getting into the mindset of investigating when we don't know something to find out the answer. I rarely ever answer a question when they wonder something. Once they are in the mindset of investing, inquiring, exploring, they are unstoppable! Good luck in your new year!

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  15. Good Morning Darla,
    I would love to see a completed copy of your web organizer and inquiry plan template if you would share it? I have been taking tiny steps within my K classroom trying to implement Reggio and student driven inquiry based learning. Your blog is wonderful and shows such a natural way to teach young children! thanks robinson@nrsd.net
    Renee Robinson

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  16. HI Darla,
    Your posts are inspiring. Back on June 10th you responded to someone about using a unit that you've already done like trees/seasons to get started. How would you set up and experience the block or engineering area?
    Heidi
    hkreusch@me.com

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    1. Hi Heidi!
      I have two separate areas for building/engineering. One has big wooden blocks with some natural tree blocks, rocks, stones, and some loose parts. This area has a large area of floor space for kids to create and build. I also have an old coffee table where I put more small scale engineering materials such as Legos, K'Nex, Magnetics or smaller scale blocks. Sometimes I switch out the engineering materials at the table for recyclables, paper, glue, pipe cleaners, clothes pins, craft sticks, paper tubes, boxes, etc for them to build and create with!

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  17. Mrs. Myers,
    Hi. My name is Mary. I am a kindergarten teacher of 12 years and last year we were required to do 2 PBL projects. Our training came from our co-teachers who went and got training and brought it back the information to us. The truth of the matter is I still haven't been able to wrap my brain around the concept. I did do some projects with my grade level but I wasn't please with the results. So, I am looking on the internet for a simple version of planning and implementing PBL in my classroom this year. I read your blog and I see hope. Is there any way I can get a copy of your three templates ( web organizer, I Can standards, and inquiry planning). I believe these can help me become more successful in the implementation of PBL in my classroom. Thank you so much. Mary. My email adddress is lit123@bellsouth.net

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  18. I would like to thank for all the great information and ideas you are showing us teachers. All the activities will help children explore and inquire more about the life around them. i teach 4 years old children and our first unit is about (how we care for ourselves and others) what activities I can layout for them to help them explore?

    This is my e-mail :khalafb@eischools.ae

    thank you

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    1. Here is a link to a post I did called "All About Me" that celebrated everyones differences. Maybe this would help? I also have put out clay in flesh tones with little objects for them to make people with or themselves. The kids have also used glass beads, buttons, yarn, etc. and a round tree cookie or cork coaster to create pictures of themselves or friends. I hope this helps! Here is the link: http://mrsmyerskindergarten.blogspot.com/2013/09/we-are-alike-we-are-different.html -Darla

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  19. Hi Darla, as many teachers have mentioned above your PBL approach is very inspirational. I like your advice of taking baby steps with a theme that you have already done and start there. I am a kindergarten/grade one teacher and I am trying to wrap my mind around meeting the needs of the k's and the gr. one's at the same time. I think PBL would work well for this combination. Would you be willing to share your daily schedule, inquiry planning, I can statements....really anything to help me get PBL started? My email is erika_pritchard@sd33.bc.ca. Our school is located in British Columbia, Canada where we are implementing a new curriculum which fits well with PBL. WE have a professional development day on Friday and I would love to share some of your ideas with my staff (if that is ok with you). Thank you so much!

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  20. Two plus hours later and I am still reading and learning from your site. It is amazing and your classroom truly reflects inquiry-based learning. I am just starting out in a kindergarten class and would appreciate if you could send me some of your templates (blank),some of the completed investigation templates, schedules (what does your day look like?). How do you implement your reading and math to ensure all of those elements are also met. I understand there is the cross-curricular element in which students are using math and literacy in their inquiries. Your help would be greatly appreciated. BTW I am passing this site onto my colleagues! EMAIL: cristalle1@hotmail.com

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  21. Hi Darla,
    I would also love to receive the templates you shared in this blog post if possible.
    Thank you.
    martine.assad at gmail dot com

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  22. I was just researching inquiry based learning for my first grade classroom and stumbled upon your blog. I am so interested in implementing this in my class but wondered how to do it with 5 and 6 year olds!

    I noticed that you offered to share your pdf templates with others and wondered if you would be able to send them my way? I would be so appreciative!

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience!

    Sincerely,

    Joanne Hart
    kansashart99@gmail.com

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  23. Darla! It is great to have a teacher that is so passionate about learning and creating such wonderful curiosity in the classroom! Thanks so much!!! I was wondering if I could have a copy of the 3 pdfs on this post. Our district is trying to really move toward the PBL approach and I have been selected to be one of the mentors in my school. These organizers would be a great help! Thanks so much!
    Kpardue@mauryk12.org

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  24. Hi Darla,
    I would also love to receive the templates you shared in this blog post if possible.
    Thank you.
    balpreettoor at hotmail.com

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  25. Our school is in its first year of implementing PBL. I am having a hard time wrapping my head around it. I would love to receive your templates you share in this blog. This has helped so much.

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    1. Hi Melissa! I'm so glad that this helped! I need your email address so I can email the templates to you!
      Sincerely,
      Darla

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  26. Hello Darla,
    I too was wondering if it would be possible to get a copy of the templates you posted as well?
    bry_185@hotmail.com
    Thank you,
    Bryanne

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  27. Hi Darla, I have been following your blog for some time and now, more than ever, I am very keen on embarking on my own project-based journey in the classroom. I am moving to a brand new school focusing on inquiry and the emergent curriculum. I am wondering if I can get a copy of your templates as well? It would be much appreciated. My email is hoppyte@hotmail.com

    best wishes,
    Tricia

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  28. I would also appreciate the templates
    Thanks!
    Morah

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  29. Dear Darla,
    I have been following your blog and am very interested in learning more about project-based learning. I would love a copy of the templates that you have here. I would really like to see a few completed webs. I saw your compelted web about Super Hero's on Instagram and I am very interested! Thank you for sharing your ideas and inspiring me to do more project based learning. Medea Jones medeajones423@gmail.com

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  30. Hi Darla,

    I have been looking at your blog for a few years now and I always love reading about the children's exploration. I'm curious about how you set up your day? Is it possible to see you daily schedule?

    Thanks,
    Jackie
    jacqueline.puuri@gmail.com

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