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October 7, 2016 10 Tips for Planning Project Based Learning: Using Time Lines By Shari Edwards
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    Project Based Learning is powerful. It is flexible, engaging, and one of the best ways for students to achieve deep learning. Here are some tips and resources to help you use this method to the benefit of your students and address their needs while keeping the activities deep and the experiences meaningful.

    I’ve been hanging out at William Allan White Elementary School, Wichita Kansas, in Kelly Kelly’s third grade classroom digging into the social studies topic of how and why communities change. Here are some activities we used to help all of her students develop a greater understanding of the third grade social studies concept that societies experience continuity and change over time.

    For many of the tips, I’ve added some sample activities created for her students on the topic.

    Tip # 1 – Design activities with your students’ level of abstract thinking in mind.

    When planning and designing successful PBL activities, it’s important to consider students’ developmental abstract thinking. As I plan, I take their needs into account and make sure to include a concrete scaffolding. This ensures the greatest amount of understanding for each student.

    Kelly and I constructed some projects and activities to address a third grade social studies concept that societies experience continuity and change over time. As with most groups of 8- and 9-Magnetic timeline on whiteboardyear-olds, the range on the "continuum of concrete to abstract thinking” is broad. This is an important point to consider when working with the abstract concepts within history, the passage of time, and how that affects a community.

    Time lines are a visual representation tool for talking about the very abstract concepts of history and time. On a recent afternoon Kelly’s class gathered at the carpet with me to begin exploring time lines. We built a time line showing the years between 1900 and 2016 using magnetic tiles and I filled in some events that they could connect with or would find familiar.

    Tip # 2 – Always begin with an essential question.

    Brains are wired to answer questions. Find the big question and ask it. Ask it often to keep students, and yourself, focused on the concept.

    Look at the standard or concept you are teaching for ideas. The concept that societies experience continuity and change over time is where we went to design the question. A good, over-arching question engages learners in the topic and is a brain researched strategy for focusing the brain on a target. Here is the one we used for our projects.

    How and why do communities change over time?

     

    Tip # 3 – Connect new learning to familiar concepts.

    Familiar concepts can be used to help bridge the gap in understanding if they can be connected to the new concept.

    Project clarificationWe spent some time looking for time lines in the real world and students spotted several in their classroom. The daily schedule, wall clock, and calendar were time lines with which they connected and understood. (This helped us scaffold the understanding in Activity 2.)

    The whole group discussions are an important piece of the puzzle when leading students toward understanding and for clarification during projects.

    Never be afraid to call an impromptu meeting when coming across more than a little misunderstanding during your rounds. Misunderstanding happening in just one group should be addressed with that group. Watch the group that is slightly ahead of the others if it's a new project. They might give you indications of snags that other groups are about to experience. 


    Tip # 4 – Let students teach students through the reuse of products from previous classes or years.

    Using material from another school year and building on it is a strategy I use often in my project-based teaching. Students respond differently when encountering information provided by other students. I reuse previous, finished projects to build new activities on each time I teach a unit.

    Activity 1:
    Once we had a frame with which to talk about a century of time, they were ready to hear the story of a centenarian in my own family history. My great uncle, Reuben Johnson, lived one hundred years between 1903 and 2003. Uncle Reuben had many adventures as he traveled the country in the twenties, thirties, and forties. I have used his story many times over the years to help me teach concepts in history and geography.

    This fall, I shared a short video with them that had been created by one of my former second grade classes about Reuben’s life. After watching the video, we recorded some important events from his life onto our time line.

    Tip # 5 – Teach students how to create thinking tools.

    Students should be shown how to create tools that support learning. It gives them confidence and a deeper understanding of how the tool might be used.

    Activity 2: Next, we wanted the students to construct a time line from scratch. They folded pieces of copyboy constructing a timeline paper in half lengthwise to create the line they would need and then found the center of that line by folding once more. That center mark helps them visually place events on the line and avoids overcrowding events to closely on the time line. Then, they traced the long line and put an arrow at each end.

    Each student had the choice of either making a time line of an event in their life or of a typical school day. The latter is a scaffolding option because students could refer to the posted schedule in the classroom, if needed.

    Tip # 6 – Give students a place to record thoughts and ideas.

    Graphic organizers and other recording sheets can keep individuals and groups on the path as they explore a concept.

    Kelly and I hoped to help her third graders grasp the concept of history through the use of photographs taken ofgirl PNW chart familiar buildings around Wichita. I built a slide show using images from early Wichita and taking new pictures of the same buildings. I arranged the slides so that the older images appeared first and the more recent appeared when needed. Kelly devised a graphic organizer with three columns labeled: I Predict, I Notice, I Wonder (PNW.)

    Activity 3: That afternoon, as Kelly passed the PNW sheets to her students, we invited them into a review discussion about time lines, to look at some pictures with me on the electronic whiteboard. We explained that they would soon be seeing some old pictures of buildings in Wichita; some as far back as the late 1800’s. I remind them about the time line we worked on in an earlier lesson.

    On their PNW sheets, they jotted predictions in the first column about what they expected to see in the pictures and shared their predictions with each other and the class. We listed several of their ideas on the board and discussed what led them to those predictions.

    slide showing Wichita building in 1904 and 2016As we flipped through the slides, students wrote observations in the "I noticed" column of their PNW sheet. Once the third graders had viewed the slide show, we asked them to think about the changes they had seen between the past and present images. They used the "I Wonder" column to write one to two statements about what they were wondering regarding the changes.

     

    Click on the graphic organizer below to download our I Predict, I Notice, I Wonder Graphic Organizer

    graphic organizer

     

    Tip # 7 – Cement learning through new application.

    Have students apply learning in a new way. Let them replicate the process.

    We cemented the concept of “change over time” in students' minds in an engaging way by asking a question.discussing building changes doc cam What changes might happen to our community in the future? A discussion of why the changes might have been made to buildings ensued and new understanding was evident in their ideas.

    The conversation then moved to what changes we might predict for the future of familiar buildings in our community. Lists of predictions were volleyed about within groups of students when the conversation turned to their own school building — complete with flying cars!

    Activity 4: Groups of studentsChanging the school on paper pored over copies of an aerial view of their school. Pairs of students discussed the ways the building might change in the future and a whole class conversation began. The concept of changing the school building had added meaning for them because they had moved from a newer, more spacious part of the building they occupied in second grade to the oldest, and more cramped, rooms in the building for third grade. They began making changes to their copies with markers, labeling as they went. As Kelly and I joined various groups in conversation, we asked them what made the changes necessary. The discussions were eye-opening. It was exciting to see how their thoughts about the future were evident in their building changes.

    Tip # 8 – Trust students with their new knowledge.
    Students display their newly acquired knowledge through application. This should be a product that can be used as a tool to increase understanding.

    The final project for their study of time lines was to construct a large time line of the history of Wichita.

    girls working togetherboys work on timeline

    Activity 5: Pairs of students were assigned a decade of history to display on a large timeline. They were given several events to include on their time line for their particular decade. Their goal was to make a time line of nearly 150 years of Wichita history. Students settled in around the large colorful pieces of paper and began to fill it with history.

    discussing timeline workActivity 6: The students revisited their new learning by viewing the finished projects, now hanging together in the hall. Students with a good grasp of the concept of the passage of time in history have a device to use to frame discussion. Students with partial understanding, have a visual representation to help them increase their knowledge.

    Tip # 9 – Help students reflect and glean understanding from their work.

    Once students have finished a project, use their recent experience to build their knowledge base and help them understand what they have learned. It might seem that it would happen automatically, but it doesn't.

    reflectionDon't let those "teachable moments" go unused! It is very important to help students with this step. Review the essential questions set early in the project and help them decide if the question has been answered.

    Kelly passed around sticky notes and asked them to think about what makes time lines so powerful and such a useful tool. She gave them time to think and write an answer before leading them into a sharing time. Listening to this special discussion ending the project was very valuable to them and us. They responded to others as they listened and also demonstrated their new level of understanding to Kelly and me.

    Tip # 10 – Relax and enjoy the process.

    Project Based Learning can seem a little messy and "out-of-control" but it's an enjoyable way to teach and even more enjoyable for students.

    Sometimes classes will go well and other times not so much. Don't sweat it if there are glitches. You are learning along with the students! Your students will gather more than you expect if you stay focused on the essential question and have taken time to design the projects.

    girl showing her work

    The next time you are challenged with the task of instilling knowledge of an abstract concept, try PBL and incorporate these tips.

    Looking for more? Join me at "Pondering Pedagogy" for more resources on PBL or this time line project.

    Join me here in December for a Seventh Grade Immigration - Research and DNA Project that I can't wait to share with you!

    Project Based Learning is powerful. It is flexible, engaging, and one of the best ways for students to achieve deep learning. Here are some tips and resources to help you use this method to the benefit of your students and address their needs while keeping the activities deep and the experiences meaningful.

    I’ve been hanging out at William Allan White Elementary School, Wichita Kansas, in Kelly Kelly’s third grade classroom digging into the social studies topic of how and why communities change. Here are some activities we used to help all of her students develop a greater understanding of the third grade social studies concept that societies experience continuity and change over time.

    For many of the tips, I’ve added some sample activities created for her students on the topic.

    Tip # 1 – Design activities with your students’ level of abstract thinking in mind.

    When planning and designing successful PBL activities, it’s important to consider students’ developmental abstract thinking. As I plan, I take their needs into account and make sure to include a concrete scaffolding. This ensures the greatest amount of understanding for each student.

    Kelly and I constructed some projects and activities to address a third grade social studies concept that societies experience continuity and change over time. As with most groups of 8- and 9-Magnetic timeline on whiteboardyear-olds, the range on the "continuum of concrete to abstract thinking” is broad. This is an important point to consider when working with the abstract concepts within history, the passage of time, and how that affects a community.

    Time lines are a visual representation tool for talking about the very abstract concepts of history and time. On a recent afternoon Kelly’s class gathered at the carpet with me to begin exploring time lines. We built a time line showing the years between 1900 and 2016 using magnetic tiles and I filled in some events that they could connect with or would find familiar.

    Tip # 2 – Always begin with an essential question.

    Brains are wired to answer questions. Find the big question and ask it. Ask it often to keep students, and yourself, focused on the concept.

    Look at the standard or concept you are teaching for ideas. The concept that societies experience continuity and change over time is where we went to design the question. A good, over-arching question engages learners in the topic and is a brain researched strategy for focusing the brain on a target. Here is the one we used for our projects.

    How and why do communities change over time?

     

    Tip # 3 – Connect new learning to familiar concepts.

    Familiar concepts can be used to help bridge the gap in understanding if they can be connected to the new concept.

    Project clarificationWe spent some time looking for time lines in the real world and students spotted several in their classroom. The daily schedule, wall clock, and calendar were time lines with which they connected and understood. (This helped us scaffold the understanding in Activity 2.)

    The whole group discussions are an important piece of the puzzle when leading students toward understanding and for clarification during projects.

    Never be afraid to call an impromptu meeting when coming across more than a little misunderstanding during your rounds. Misunderstanding happening in just one group should be addressed with that group. Watch the group that is slightly ahead of the others if it's a new project. They might give you indications of snags that other groups are about to experience. 


    Tip # 4 – Let students teach students through the reuse of products from previous classes or years.

    Using material from another school year and building on it is a strategy I use often in my project-based teaching. Students respond differently when encountering information provided by other students. I reuse previous, finished projects to build new activities on each time I teach a unit.

    Activity 1:
    Once we had a frame with which to talk about a century of time, they were ready to hear the story of a centenarian in my own family history. My great uncle, Reuben Johnson, lived one hundred years between 1903 and 2003. Uncle Reuben had many adventures as he traveled the country in the twenties, thirties, and forties. I have used his story many times over the years to help me teach concepts in history and geography.

    This fall, I shared a short video with them that had been created by one of my former second grade classes about Reuben’s life. After watching the video, we recorded some important events from his life onto our time line.

    Tip # 5 – Teach students how to create thinking tools.

    Students should be shown how to create tools that support learning. It gives them confidence and a deeper understanding of how the tool might be used.

    Activity 2: Next, we wanted the students to construct a time line from scratch. They folded pieces of copyboy constructing a timeline paper in half lengthwise to create the line they would need and then found the center of that line by folding once more. That center mark helps them visually place events on the line and avoids overcrowding events to closely on the time line. Then, they traced the long line and put an arrow at each end.

    Each student had the choice of either making a time line of an event in their life or of a typical school day. The latter is a scaffolding option because students could refer to the posted schedule in the classroom, if needed.

    Tip # 6 – Give students a place to record thoughts and ideas.

    Graphic organizers and other recording sheets can keep individuals and groups on the path as they explore a concept.

    Kelly and I hoped to help her third graders grasp the concept of history through the use of photographs taken ofgirl PNW chart familiar buildings around Wichita. I built a slide show using images from early Wichita and taking new pictures of the same buildings. I arranged the slides so that the older images appeared first and the more recent appeared when needed. Kelly devised a graphic organizer with three columns labeled: I Predict, I Notice, I Wonder (PNW.)

    Activity 3: That afternoon, as Kelly passed the PNW sheets to her students, we invited them into a review discussion about time lines, to look at some pictures with me on the electronic whiteboard. We explained that they would soon be seeing some old pictures of buildings in Wichita; some as far back as the late 1800’s. I remind them about the time line we worked on in an earlier lesson.

    On their PNW sheets, they jotted predictions in the first column about what they expected to see in the pictures and shared their predictions with each other and the class. We listed several of their ideas on the board and discussed what led them to those predictions.

    slide showing Wichita building in 1904 and 2016As we flipped through the slides, students wrote observations in the "I noticed" column of their PNW sheet. Once the third graders had viewed the slide show, we asked them to think about the changes they had seen between the past and present images. They used the "I Wonder" column to write one to two statements about what they were wondering regarding the changes.

     

    Click on the graphic organizer below to download our I Predict, I Notice, I Wonder Graphic Organizer

    graphic organizer

     

    Tip # 7 – Cement learning through new application.

    Have students apply learning in a new way. Let them replicate the process.

    We cemented the concept of “change over time” in students' minds in an engaging way by asking a question.discussing building changes doc cam What changes might happen to our community in the future? A discussion of why the changes might have been made to buildings ensued and new understanding was evident in their ideas.

    The conversation then moved to what changes we might predict for the future of familiar buildings in our community. Lists of predictions were volleyed about within groups of students when the conversation turned to their own school building — complete with flying cars!

    Activity 4: Groups of studentsChanging the school on paper pored over copies of an aerial view of their school. Pairs of students discussed the ways the building might change in the future and a whole class conversation began. The concept of changing the school building had added meaning for them because they had moved from a newer, more spacious part of the building they occupied in second grade to the oldest, and more cramped, rooms in the building for third grade. They began making changes to their copies with markers, labeling as they went. As Kelly and I joined various groups in conversation, we asked them what made the changes necessary. The discussions were eye-opening. It was exciting to see how their thoughts about the future were evident in their building changes.

    Tip # 8 – Trust students with their new knowledge.
    Students display their newly acquired knowledge through application. This should be a product that can be used as a tool to increase understanding.

    The final project for their study of time lines was to construct a large time line of the history of Wichita.

    girls working togetherboys work on timeline

    Activity 5: Pairs of students were assigned a decade of history to display on a large timeline. They were given several events to include on their time line for their particular decade. Their goal was to make a time line of nearly 150 years of Wichita history. Students settled in around the large colorful pieces of paper and began to fill it with history.

    discussing timeline workActivity 6: The students revisited their new learning by viewing the finished projects, now hanging together in the hall. Students with a good grasp of the concept of the passage of time in history have a device to use to frame discussion. Students with partial understanding, have a visual representation to help them increase their knowledge.

    Tip # 9 – Help students reflect and glean understanding from their work.

    Once students have finished a project, use their recent experience to build their knowledge base and help them understand what they have learned. It might seem that it would happen automatically, but it doesn't.

    reflectionDon't let those "teachable moments" go unused! It is very important to help students with this step. Review the essential questions set early in the project and help them decide if the question has been answered.

    Kelly passed around sticky notes and asked them to think about what makes time lines so powerful and such a useful tool. She gave them time to think and write an answer before leading them into a sharing time. Listening to this special discussion ending the project was very valuable to them and us. They responded to others as they listened and also demonstrated their new level of understanding to Kelly and me.

    Tip # 10 – Relax and enjoy the process.

    Project Based Learning can seem a little messy and "out-of-control" but it's an enjoyable way to teach and even more enjoyable for students.

    Sometimes classes will go well and other times not so much. Don't sweat it if there are glitches. You are learning along with the students! Your students will gather more than you expect if you stay focused on the essential question and have taken time to design the projects.

    girl showing her work

    The next time you are challenged with the task of instilling knowledge of an abstract concept, try PBL and incorporate these tips.

    Looking for more? Join me at "Pondering Pedagogy" for more resources on PBL or this time line project.

    Join me here in December for a Seventh Grade Immigration - Research and DNA Project that I can't wait to share with you!

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