Saturday, December 14, 2013

Part 2: Project-Based Reseach in a Fourth Grade Classroom

Budding Biologists Raise Trout

Meet Ashton Barnett  
4th Grade Science/Writing Teacher
Amanda Gist Elementary School
Cotter, Arkansas

Continuing with the research theme from last week, this week's blog features a friend, colleague, and former student. Ashton is half way through her trout project and shares how her 4th graders began raising trout. It sounds like a memorable project. It is Project-Based Learning (PBL) in nature and will create lasting memories for all involved. In her own words here is her story. I know you will enjoy.


               During the first week of school while on recess duty, I spotted a student of mine crouched down on his hands and knees completely absorbed and intently peering through his tiny magnifying glass. I asked what he had discovered. At this point, he led me around the entire playground, showing me microscopic objects that normally go by unnoticed. The science teacher in me was cheering and I couldn't have asked for a better segue into our Trout in the Classroom Project.

               Last year I happened on the Trout in the Classroom website and immediately knew it was something I had to do. It was perfect since fishing is what our local region is all about.  Cotter proudly claims to be the Trout Capital of the U.S.A. Trout in the Classroom is sponsored by the organization of Trout Unlimited and is considered "place-based education." The learning is focused within the local community of students, providing students with opportunities to become active citizens and stewards of their environment. This approach emphasizes hands-on, real world learning that challenges students to learn and solve problems. The Trout in the Classroom website offers huge support to teachers with lesson plans, resources, etc. They sent a representative to my classroom to set up a 55 gallon fish tank and chiller and provided us with 100 trout eggs. It was the students' job to observe changes and release the fry into our local fishing streams.

                I knew from the beginning it would be easy to grab my kids’ enthusiasm for the project. When school started in August, I teased them a little by leaving a corner of my room void of anything except the word “Trout.”  They were hooked--riddled with curiosity. 

                I had begun the year by teaching the students what REAL scientists do: They observe, predict, question, investigate, collaborate, communicate, and they interpret information.  Finally, the students were ready to take on the roles of biologists. I explained Trout in the Classroom and their faces were glowing with excitement. All at once I had two problems on my hands. First, it was all of their questions. So many questions, I couldn't write fast enough. Second of all, I had one student who voiced an indifference to learning more about “dumb trout.” Fortunately, he quickly changed his mind.

               The enthusiasm for the project was infectious. Even the parents were getting involved. My students were showing up to class with treasures: long-forgotten trout species posters, pictures of fry and fingerlings torn from fishing magazines, and one student brought in a shell for the tank. Another student decorated a spiral notebook for notes reserved just for trout. As a class, we quickly put together binders to hold all the information we were finding, and boy were they finding it fast!

                Remember my first problem- all the questions. Well I recorded all of them, which led to pages and pages of notes. More notes than I thought we could manage. I modeled good research skills while we found informative articles to answer the questions, which then led to more questions. Their personal trout binders allowed them all to become responsible for managing the accumulated information.

                When we began the research phase, I assigned them a partner so they were in groups of 2-3. I have three student computers and seven iPads, so everyone was able to begin researching using the skills I had modeled. Each group chose a question to answer. I gave them a note taking page where they recorded their question, the website URL, and their notes. At the end of the week, partners took turns sharing their information in which ever way they had selected-- a poster, a report, etc. 

               It is hard to find a speaker who has the knowledge, is able to communicate that knowledge in a way that excites kids, and also who cares about the students’ questions in a way that makes them feel valued. Gary Flippin, a local fishing guide, was just that person. He taught the students so much.



               We also took a field trip to the White River where two biologists from the Norfolk Fish Hatchery came to share some information with my budding biologists. They brought real fish models to explain the differences in types of trout and the parts of the fish.  We also went to the river and took samples to test the Ph and dissolved oxygen levels. Our notebooks burst with information.

There have been times I have had to step away from our trout curriculum.  There are other standards to teach that are just as important. The great thing about this project is that at the end of each unit we would find our way back to the trout project and tie it to our new learning. As a result the students have begun making big and broad connections to the different areas of science. 

We are nearing the end of the first phase of our project.  Soon we will release the trout. One of my final goals is for my students to take all the bits and pieces of information they have recorded and learned and to have them create something that authentically captures their learning. Without this critical last step, I feel like I can’t technically call this Project Based Learning.

               I’m considering what real biologists do when they learn new information. Most of them write about their discoveries in articles and reports. Since I also teach writing, we will dive into informational writing beginning in January.  It is during this informational writing unit the students will synthesize their learning from the Trout in the Classroom Project. In addition, they will create formal presentations using a biologist's perspective.It promises to be an exciting January and February.

                As I reflect about what I’ve learned so far on my first attempt at PBL, I would say I’m very pleased with how easily this project progressed since it is so relevant to our community. Speakers, field trip locations, and resources have been abundant and easily obtained. Because of so much information coming in so quickly, I struggled keeping track of it all.  Through this project I was able to hit so many of the standards that I formally teach without even trying! I hope that by the end of the writing and presentations phase, I can look back on all that the students have learned and see their learning went much deeper than I expected. 

               Thank you so much Ashton for your fascinating and inspiring story of your students' experience with Trout in the Classroom. Maybe I can coax you into sharing the final phase later this spring once your students have finished their biologist's reports and have given their presentations.

               As I was working with 2nd graders last spring teaching beginning research skills I did a great deal of reading about PBL. I think it has a prominent place in our 21st Century classrooms. Some of the best resources I found were from the Buck Institute For Education.  You might want to check them out. Also, I have a Project Based Learning board on Pinterest. It's loaded with great ideas and links.

              Although, I am closing the blog down until January 4th, I will post when the Animal Experts Research Unit is completed and for sale on TPT. Hopefully, very soon! :)

Happy Holidays to all of you. There is a wealth of great info beginning in January. Please stay with us. In the meantime, may all your days be Best Days and especially those precious
Saturdays.  Merry Christmas and God Bless!

 p.s. If you have questions for Ashton, you can contact her through Saturday Morning Coffee.

More information on PBL:
Larry Ferlazzo is a wealth of information. His best information sites information is THE BEST.
PBL Do's and Dont's  Part I and Part 2

No comments:

Post a Comment