This PBL transformation story is shared in its entirety by Sara Lev, an expert early years practitioner…
This is my 16th year as a classroom teacher – I currently teach Transitional Kindergarten (4- and 5- year olds) in Los Angeles, California. I received my Master’s degree in Early Childhood Education from Bank Street College in NYC where I was first introduced to PBL, and I’ve never looked back! I’ve taught TK-2 in public, private and charter school settings, but obviously, there has never been a year quite like this one.
The entire year thus far has been a transformative learning experience for me. Teaching 4 year – olds online was never something I thought I would do. I went into the year with my own driving question which essentially was:
“How can I create a strong and joyful learning community for kids and families despite the distance?”
The answer for me, is PBL. When the year began, none of my students had met each other or me and none had even set foot in our classroom. So our first project of the year – designing our own class website – empowered children to share aspects of themselves, their families, and their lives with one another in order to get to know one another better. The website included self-portraits, neighborhood maps and favorite rooms in children’s homes. Some children even wanted to include favorite recipes. Today, our website is also totally functional – we use it to document and share work and news. It continues to help us sustain our learning community – much like if we had bulletin boards lining our classroom or hallway walls.
The Rainbow Builders Rocketship Podcast Project
For our second project, my students collaborated in small groups to write and produce a podcast with stories about outer space. The topic of space emerged after I did virtual home visits for each of my kids early in the year, and noticed how many of them expressed an interest in space. They had space bed sheets, posters, NASA t-shirts, and one child even showed me a real telescope. I knew I wanted to honor their shared interests with a project, and a podcast seemed like the right fit. To learn more about the content and podcast production, my students got to interview (over Zoom) a few amazing experts – a lead engineer from Space X, and a podcast producer of a space podcast for kids. Then, they got to work writing, rehearsing, and recording their podcast stories.
I’m obsessed with finding ways for children to collaborate online. This is one of the greatest challenges of the year, and I am determined to find ways to overcome the obstacles. The podcast was a great opportunity. Children needed to share and listen to one another’s ideas. They each had an essential role in the project, and some even took on additional roles like writing a theme song or designing our logo. They each took on roles, practiced for days, relied on each other and finally, got to share their podcast with families and a much larger community. The podcast actually aired as “Bonus Episode” on the EdTech Classroom Podcast and you can listen HERE on Apple and Spotify!
For me, the most magical moments of this project came from seeing young children take ownership for every aspect of their learning – from the seed idea, to the investigations and explorations, interviewing experts, writing stories – and then finally, their obvious pride and joy as they listened to our completed podcast with their families over our Zoom celebration. From beginning to end, PBL completely came through as a means to inspire joyful and independent learning. At every turn, I see that remote learning is not going to get in the way of a strong community, and we are already into our third project of the year. I don’t know what the next few months will bring, but I do know that wherever we are, PBL will be a part of what we do.
Sara is the co-author of Implementing Project Based Learning in Early Childhood: Overcoming Misconceptions and Reaching Success (Routledge, 2020). You can connect with her on twitter @saramlev and learn more at earlychildhoodpbl.com.