With This Project, the Learning is Baked in
Project-based learning (PBL) helps my students connect what is being taught in the classroom to everyday life. They see how the language, science, and mathematical skills they’ve learned translate to their future careers. At the same time, they are becoming more familiar with various computer programs and emerging technology, and building their collaboration and presentation skills, which will greatly impact their future job endeavors.
As an intervention teacher, I’ve discovered PBL works well for students who need to be stretched and challenged in non-traditional ways. Doing hands-on, multi-faceted projects gives kids an outlet for creativity while still meeting academic standards and providing an environment to develop necessary critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. The projects we do create a collaborative classroom environment with a strong focus on independent work and creative expression.
Students Turned Entrepreneurs
I recently did a performance task with my 4th-grade intervention students that I found on Defined STEM. The performance task, titled “Baker,” asked the students to create a business investment proposal and a scale drawing for a successful bakery. Students would present their plans to a foundation consisting of our learning leader, the principal, assistant principal, and myself. The winner would be awarded pretend funds to open their business.
We started the project by conducting a whole-class discussion regarding what the students already knew about bakeries and what they thought it would take to design and open a bakery. After this, we all gathered to watch a video and responded to the provided guiding questions together. The next day, we read and discussed the business goal, role, audience, situation, and products.
Each student then set out to imagine their very own unique bakery to meet the needs of their chosen target audience, and to create a specialized pastry item that would be their specialty. The students conducted research focused on average small bakery size, initial startup costs, current pastry trends, and supplies they would need.
When they had completed their research, they began the bakery design by measuring the front facade of our school as a starting point. They also measured the windows and doors as a reference. Students formulated a rough draft of their design and then a final, hand-drawn, color elevation.
Student’s final presentation gave an overview of the elevation rough draft, the final scale elevation drawing, an exterior signage sample, a constructed-response paper communicating what they had learned during the process, and a sample pastry if they chose to prepare their specialty. The products they created connected to a variety of career paths including architecture, business planning, administration, culinary arts—the list goes on!
Encouraging the Creative Process
Although this project was a bit intimidating at first, students quickly shed any fear and dove head-first into the creative process. They enjoyed the challenge of building a business from the ground up as well as applying many mathematical skills they had studied throughout the year. I heard, “I love this! This is fun!” so many times. A couple of students said that this piqued their interest in business ownership, and one shared that she would love to possibly open a bakery in the future! The project prompted so many quality discussions, which led to additional research and a greater understanding of the assigned tasks.
A project-based model works to increase rigor by adding or tweaking products to meet my objectives as a teacher. The students love it because they have a sense of ownership as they work on their projects and own the choices they make in them. Team-building is part of it, too, with students showing a tremendous amount of respect toward their peers as they evaluate one another’s work and learn to participate in a collaborative and creative community. The skills they learn during these projects translate well outside of school—not only in their future careers, but in everyday life.
Deanna Freeman is an elementary intervention educator at Castle Heights Elementary School in Lebanon, Tennessee.