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December 2, 2016 6 Steps to Designing PBL: Immigration and The DNA Project By Shari Edwards
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    The last time I sat in a seventh-grade geography classroom was several decades ago. I don’t mean to “dis” my former geography teacher, but all I remember of his class are giant, faded maps on rollers, lectures in monotone with plenty of yellow chalk on a dusty blackboard, and fighting to stay awake. (Well, all that and a series of notes written to my BFF who just happened to have been assigned the same desk two hours later each day. The notes fit nicely in a corner of the book space under our chair!) Clearly, the case for "relevance of world geography to my teenage existence" was lacking!

    If you read my October blog post, "10 Tips for Planning Project Based Learning: Using Time Lines" you might remember how important I feel project based learning (PBL) is for students in any classroom setting. My experience with PBL has been almost exclusively at the primary level, so this fall, it was time to stretch myself a little bit and seek out a secondary classroom! The classroom I found is nothing like the classroom from my own school memories!

    Late in the summer, as I sat with Sarah Forster, a seventh grade geography teacher at Jardine STEM and Career Explorations Academy in Wichita, Kansas, looking at her bright, technology-supported room arranged in groups to promote interactive learning, I could tell it wasn’t the classroom of my past.

    #1 Make It Relevant
    Relevance is key to cementing knowledge and making it accessible to future application. Knowledge acquired without relevance soon disappears.

    As we collaborated, Sarah suggested a way we could blend my emphasis on family history with an important seventh grade standard: immigration. She proposed a project that would involve her students discovering how close they could come to preSarah and her studentsdicting the countries her ancestors had emigrated from through interview and research. It would end with the revealing of her DNA ancestry results.

    Sometimes you happen upon an idea for a project that you instantly know is going to be powerful to students. That's exactly what came to my mind as I listened!

    Studying immigration through history is a required standard and a topic that has the potential for seeming old and irrelevant. By adding a twist using DNA, which is something students often see in various media, student relevance (and deeper learning) sounded promising!

    My job would be to provide her students with information about genealogy, and to help them develop powerful questions to ask Sarah and her parents about family traditions, favorite foods, and anything else that might help them make an educated guess as to her ancestry.

    #2 Use Quality Resources
    Resources that are current, accurate, and accessible are often at a premium in the classroom. It pays to search online sources if your students have access to the Internet. Scholastic has always been on my short list when exploring options. Don’t forget to enlist experts in the form of classroom guests, in person or on the Web!

    student studying immigration data slides

    Sarah chose the great resources provided by Scholastic to help her students study United States immigration through the years. She asked them to think through the information on the Immigration Data Slides found on Scholastic.com and record their findings in digital form on their laptops. It got students thinking about immigration and spurred discussions while allowing them to practice looking at data in charts, graphs, and several other formats.

    To help them work through the data, she created a document for recording the data they found that could be saved for later reference.

    I provided additional information to Sarah’s class as I told about my ancestors who were immigrants to America. Her classes had great questions for me and I overheard them refer to that information many times as they worked through the project.

    #3 — Develop Essential Questions and Teach Students to Construct Effective Questions
    Develop questions that can be revisited often during the project. Compelling questions are essential to guiding the thinking of students and providing a frame to work within. Those questions also guide planning as the project progresses.

    For this project, Sarah used one, two-part overarching question:

    Does immigration affect me? If so, how?  

    Under that question, she devised two supporting questions:

    • Is it possible to predict a person’s DNA ancestry results by learning about their culture and background?

    • What information might help us predict a country or region of origin?

    They asked many other questions as the project progressed:

    • What is immigration?

    • Why did/do people migrate?

    • What is DNA?

    • What are ancestors?

    • How do we construct an effective question?

    • Can we predict Ms. Forster’s country/countries of origin

    Sarah promised to answer all of their questions but no more than what they asked. They experimented with different types of questions as a warm up to the task at hand. Wording and structure of a question is important when you only have one chance to ask!

    St: “Ms. Forster, did your family have favorite foods that they like to cook?”           T: “Yes”
    St: “Ms. Forster, what foods does your family like to cook?”                                   T:  “We love to make bierocks!”

    Sarah’s classes spent a couple of days writing questions they thought would help them make their predictions. I told them about my genealogy and the clues in mpaddlet questionsy family culture that matched the information in my family tree. The students grouped together and produced a good list that included questions about family traditions, favorite foods, childhood memories, last names of grandparents, and stories they had heard from family members. Every group was responsible for at least two questions for Sarah and two for her parents.

    Each group typed their questions into an online board called Padlet.com. Sarah and her parents answered the questions over a weekend typing them onto the Padlet board for each class.

    Once the answers came back, students began researching foods, childhood games, holiday traditions, and anything else they could find to develop their predictions and arguments.

    #4 Invite Students in and Create Anticipation
    Know your audience! Relationships are very important to keeping students engaged. Be real and personable with your students. Learning can and should be enjoyable.

    Sarah has a positive rapport with her students. She welcomes them into her classroom every day, greeting each one, individually. I wasn’t surprised when she dubbed the project “Who IS Ms. Forster?” It garnered a few silly remarks from students and set up an irresistible challenge that encouraged the buy-in that we all want as teachers.

    If you teach in a middle school, you’ll probably guess that a lucky class won the privilege of watching Ms. Forster spit in the tube for her DNA test! They loved every minute they hated it, of course!

    By the time her results were back, student predictions were in, I had findings to share from my genealogy work on her family, and Sarah was beside herself with anticipation! There were a few surprises but we weren’t too far off on our predictions.

    #5 Require Reflection
    Reflecting, especially in writing, is essential to processing new learning. Written reflection is important for the student to process and the teacher to read and evaluate the effect of the project on their learning and growth.

    Sarah created several reflection forms for them to use on their laptops to sort out the information they were learning and pull it together. She also asked them to spend some time as groups to reflect verbally.

    #6 Send Them Forward
    What now? What will you do with this new knowledge? A powerful PBL project will continue to have an impact on students. It strengthens relationships within the classroom and can have a positive effect on future learning.

    About half way through the project, several students started internalizing the information they were working with. The questions they started asking themselves and us were so satisfying to hear as teachers.

    “What about me?”
    “Does immigration affect me?”
    “How can I find out more about my family’s history and where my ancestors emigrated from?”

    Wow! Even though this is a topic dear to my heart, I never expected to hear this from seventh graders!

    Then the most powerful thing happened! Someone asked Sarah to check on starting an afterschool program where they could pursue their own family stories! It was music to my ears! (Possibly the sound of my great grandfather's old barn dance fiddle!)

    Starting second semester, a group will begin meeting, with the approval of the school and their parents, once a week on their own time to answer those new questions. I've been asked to join in and will get to watch as the learning goes forward into real life!

     

    Thanks for reading and Happy Teaching!

     

    If you are interested in ALL of the resources for this project, please visit my resource blog post, "Pondering Pedagogy: Immigration and the DNA Project."

     

    Look for a new blog post coming this spring about Paperless Classrooms and how Sarah runs her classroom with laptops and a smartboard with very little paper!

    The last time I sat in a seventh-grade geography classroom was several decades ago. I don’t mean to “dis” my former geography teacher, but all I remember of his class are giant, faded maps on rollers, lectures in monotone with plenty of yellow chalk on a dusty blackboard, and fighting to stay awake. (Well, all that and a series of notes written to my BFF who just happened to have been assigned the same desk two hours later each day. The notes fit nicely in a corner of the book space under our chair!) Clearly, the case for "relevance of world geography to my teenage existence" was lacking!

    If you read my October blog post, "10 Tips for Planning Project Based Learning: Using Time Lines" you might remember how important I feel project based learning (PBL) is for students in any classroom setting. My experience with PBL has been almost exclusively at the primary level, so this fall, it was time to stretch myself a little bit and seek out a secondary classroom! The classroom I found is nothing like the classroom from my own school memories!

    Late in the summer, as I sat with Sarah Forster, a seventh grade geography teacher at Jardine STEM and Career Explorations Academy in Wichita, Kansas, looking at her bright, technology-supported room arranged in groups to promote interactive learning, I could tell it wasn’t the classroom of my past.

    #1 Make It Relevant
    Relevance is key to cementing knowledge and making it accessible to future application. Knowledge acquired without relevance soon disappears.

    As we collaborated, Sarah suggested a way we could blend my emphasis on family history with an important seventh grade standard: immigration. She proposed a project that would involve her students discovering how close they could come to preSarah and her studentsdicting the countries her ancestors had emigrated from through interview and research. It would end with the revealing of her DNA ancestry results.

    Sometimes you happen upon an idea for a project that you instantly know is going to be powerful to students. That's exactly what came to my mind as I listened!

    Studying immigration through history is a required standard and a topic that has the potential for seeming old and irrelevant. By adding a twist using DNA, which is something students often see in various media, student relevance (and deeper learning) sounded promising!

    My job would be to provide her students with information about genealogy, and to help them develop powerful questions to ask Sarah and her parents about family traditions, favorite foods, and anything else that might help them make an educated guess as to her ancestry.

    #2 Use Quality Resources
    Resources that are current, accurate, and accessible are often at a premium in the classroom. It pays to search online sources if your students have access to the Internet. Scholastic has always been on my short list when exploring options. Don’t forget to enlist experts in the form of classroom guests, in person or on the Web!

    student studying immigration data slides

    Sarah chose the great resources provided by Scholastic to help her students study United States immigration through the years. She asked them to think through the information on the Immigration Data Slides found on Scholastic.com and record their findings in digital form on their laptops. It got students thinking about immigration and spurred discussions while allowing them to practice looking at data in charts, graphs, and several other formats.

    To help them work through the data, she created a document for recording the data they found that could be saved for later reference.

    I provided additional information to Sarah’s class as I told about my ancestors who were immigrants to America. Her classes had great questions for me and I overheard them refer to that information many times as they worked through the project.

    #3 — Develop Essential Questions and Teach Students to Construct Effective Questions
    Develop questions that can be revisited often during the project. Compelling questions are essential to guiding the thinking of students and providing a frame to work within. Those questions also guide planning as the project progresses.

    For this project, Sarah used one, two-part overarching question:

    Does immigration affect me? If so, how?  

    Under that question, she devised two supporting questions:

    • Is it possible to predict a person’s DNA ancestry results by learning about their culture and background?

    • What information might help us predict a country or region of origin?

    They asked many other questions as the project progressed:

    • What is immigration?

    • Why did/do people migrate?

    • What is DNA?

    • What are ancestors?

    • How do we construct an effective question?

    • Can we predict Ms. Forster’s country/countries of origin

    Sarah promised to answer all of their questions but no more than what they asked. They experimented with different types of questions as a warm up to the task at hand. Wording and structure of a question is important when you only have one chance to ask!

    St: “Ms. Forster, did your family have favorite foods that they like to cook?”           T: “Yes”
    St: “Ms. Forster, what foods does your family like to cook?”                                   T:  “We love to make bierocks!”

    Sarah’s classes spent a couple of days writing questions they thought would help them make their predictions. I told them about my genealogy and the clues in mpaddlet questionsy family culture that matched the information in my family tree. The students grouped together and produced a good list that included questions about family traditions, favorite foods, childhood memories, last names of grandparents, and stories they had heard from family members. Every group was responsible for at least two questions for Sarah and two for her parents.

    Each group typed their questions into an online board called Padlet.com. Sarah and her parents answered the questions over a weekend typing them onto the Padlet board for each class.

    Once the answers came back, students began researching foods, childhood games, holiday traditions, and anything else they could find to develop their predictions and arguments.

    #4 Invite Students in and Create Anticipation
    Know your audience! Relationships are very important to keeping students engaged. Be real and personable with your students. Learning can and should be enjoyable.

    Sarah has a positive rapport with her students. She welcomes them into her classroom every day, greeting each one, individually. I wasn’t surprised when she dubbed the project “Who IS Ms. Forster?” It garnered a few silly remarks from students and set up an irresistible challenge that encouraged the buy-in that we all want as teachers.

    If you teach in a middle school, you’ll probably guess that a lucky class won the privilege of watching Ms. Forster spit in the tube for her DNA test! They loved every minute they hated it, of course!

    By the time her results were back, student predictions were in, I had findings to share from my genealogy work on her family, and Sarah was beside herself with anticipation! There were a few surprises but we weren’t too far off on our predictions.

    #5 Require Reflection
    Reflecting, especially in writing, is essential to processing new learning. Written reflection is important for the student to process and the teacher to read and evaluate the effect of the project on their learning and growth.

    Sarah created several reflection forms for them to use on their laptops to sort out the information they were learning and pull it together. She also asked them to spend some time as groups to reflect verbally.

    #6 Send Them Forward
    What now? What will you do with this new knowledge? A powerful PBL project will continue to have an impact on students. It strengthens relationships within the classroom and can have a positive effect on future learning.

    About half way through the project, several students started internalizing the information they were working with. The questions they started asking themselves and us were so satisfying to hear as teachers.

    “What about me?”
    “Does immigration affect me?”
    “How can I find out more about my family’s history and where my ancestors emigrated from?”

    Wow! Even though this is a topic dear to my heart, I never expected to hear this from seventh graders!

    Then the most powerful thing happened! Someone asked Sarah to check on starting an afterschool program where they could pursue their own family stories! It was music to my ears! (Possibly the sound of my great grandfather's old barn dance fiddle!)

    Starting second semester, a group will begin meeting, with the approval of the school and their parents, once a week on their own time to answer those new questions. I've been asked to join in and will get to watch as the learning goes forward into real life!

     

    Thanks for reading and Happy Teaching!

     

    If you are interested in ALL of the resources for this project, please visit my resource blog post, "Pondering Pedagogy: Immigration and the DNA Project."

     

    Look for a new blog post coming this spring about Paperless Classrooms and how Sarah runs her classroom with laptops and a smartboard with very little paper!

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