Our school system's fourth graders have a long history of completing endangered species projects. The original project was crafted by an extraordinary veteran teacher. It's one of our schools' signature projects -- a project that students look forward to, and eagerly await as they approach fourth grade.
Each year the project's shape and scope evolves to meet the changing needs and interests of learners. Most of my students have completed the project, and we're currently in the midst of project presentations. This year's projects evolved to include 21st century skills, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity with greater strength. We were also able to use many new tech tools to broaden the project's scope and interest.
I like to sit down at the end of a project to reflect--to think about what worked well and what I'd like to research and possibly change for next year. I've listed my reflections below for your review and response. I'll return to this document next spring when we begin our project planning and implementation once again. Also, I recently read this article about project based learning which provides a solid rationale for our endangered species project.
- Project Planning:
- Animal Adaptation Unit: This unit is a good precursor to the endangered species study. Next year I will have students create a number of charts and vocabulary lists/mini-projects that they'll be able to use later on when they study endangered species.
- Animal Adaptation Presentation: The fourth grade teachers, thanks to funding from our PTO, hosted an animal expert from The Museum of Science in Boston for a grade-wide animal adaptation presentation with live animals.
- Topic Overview: I coupled this with a review of nonfiction strategies and "reading to find out" skills. The one-two page articles we reviewed together were helpful, and provided the entire class with a solid content foundation. I showed a number of films to strengthen the foundation as well.
- Slide Show Template: This gave students a note-taking guide to use online or offline as they researched their topic.
- Classroom Library: The classroom library exhibited related books as well as books written by students in past classes. Our librarian has researched and collected a wonderful array of books to support this project.
- Tech/Library/Art Integration: Technology integration specialists, the librarian and the art teacher helped out with the project.
- It's Learning Course: An online course was created to guide students' research and presentation efforts with links and other information.
- Social Network Discussions: Several ongoing discussion threads related to the project were posed on our closed classroom social network.
- Next Year: I'd like to add a list of essential questions to the unit plan to guide our overall study and work. We're also going to explore a local zoo connection for the project, and look for additional up-to-date overview materials.
- The first week was devoted mainly to reading books about the topic to understand endangered species, and to think about the animals each student wanted to study.
- A Google form was created and students completed the form, listing the animals they wanted to study.
- Animal selections were made -- everyone got their first choice. Typically only one child studies each animal, but this year some students were comfortable with studying the same animal.
- Once students had selected their animals, they read about their animals online and off using Internet articles, classroom resources and library books. Students took notes as they read.
- As students began to collect their resources, they crafted their presentations. Teachers worked with students on an as needed basis highlighting student work exemplars along the way to guide.
- Students helped each other create iMovies using a public service message guide.
- A checklist was created for students to follow. Students edited with teachers when they were finished or close to finishing. (See recent related blog, The Edit)
- Students presented in front of the room to classmates and family members. They engaged the class with a multimedia mix of videos, comics, public service messages, quizzes, and information slides. (Presentation Example and Examples of Specific Slide Types)
- The audience used Tweet Sheets to build their active listening/learning during the presentations.
- Students answered questions and listened to comments at the end of the presentations.
- Assessment was ongoing since most of the work was done in a workshop style. Teachers were meeting with students continually to help out, edit and review.
- Through conferencing, all students brought their projects to a high level of completion. All students were expected to complete the basic slide presentation, then there was room for more creativity and enrichment.
- Rather than a grade, students received a final assessment by way of a teacher letter highlighting the project's unique strengths. Students will also receive compliments/connections comments from classmates as part of homework on our classroom It's Learning site.
- The project process was engaging from start to finish.
- The project employed 21st century skills: collaboration, creativity, critical thinking skills, and creativity.
- Students developed reading, writing skills.
- Students learned about animal biology, geography, sociology and the environment.
- Students learned and strengthened their technology skills specifically skills with iMovie, Google Presentation and Internet research.
- Students practiced their public speaking and teaching skills.
Once again this has been a vigorous, engaging and profitable learning experience for all. I welcome your comments, questions and suggestions as my colleagues and I continue to "grow" this project for student success.