What is Project Based Learning at Strawberry Vale School?
We believe that Project Based Learning (PBL) provides students with the opportunity to realize their individual power to effect positive change on local and global issues. We understand the importance of students having a voice and choice. In Project Based Learning the experiences become meaningful as students connect the topics to their own lives. Our role is to guide them through authentic, relevant experiential learning opportunities that are tied to curriculum outcomes, to provide structure for collaborative decision making related to inquiry, planning and research, and to give them the tools they need to share their knowledge in a way that is meaningful to them and their audience.
At Strawberry Vale our school grounds provide a wealth of opportunities for students to interact with nature and employ PBL learning methods. We have a Garry Oak meadow, a native plant garden, a stream, and a school pond that serve as outdoor classrooms. We are planning for the creation of the Strawberry Vale Nature Play Perimeter Pathway to provide even more outdoor learning opportunities.
Environmental responsibility is a key part of who we are as a school. PBL topics being planned for our students will extend out from local to global environmental stewardship. Asking driving questions about nature in our immediate vicinity will be linked to the health of our planet.
Our school also provides a great deal of opportunities for students to excel with the use of technology as a tool to enhance their learning. We are well equipped with iPads, document cameras, smart boards and MacBooks that students and teachers learn in a variety of ways to enhance the learning/teaching/communicating cycle. We are exploring ways to connect the use of technology with our nature school studies. We are also planning several professional development activities so the entire school can progress on our goals.
We are applying for Project Based Learning Grants to facilitate the innovation of technology linked to nature education learning. We will purchase portable devices such as ipod minis, ipod stands and ipod carrying cases to create a bridge between our outdoor resources and our existing technology and use these devices to enable the inter-connection of outdoor and indoor experiences as an integral part of project based learning experiences planned for our students. We also plan to create outdoor education products like Nature Education Kits for each pod that include class sets of nature bags with guides, binoculars, magnifiers, and clip boards.
Every teacher at Strawberry Vale is participating in a project based learning inquiry related to nature education.
Strawberry Vale PBL Inquiry Question:
How does the implementation of Nature Education principles and activities enhance learning?
Each participating teacher will proceed with PBL methodology to develop student driven inquiry questions that fall under this umbrella. Throughout the grade levels at our school, project based learning experiences that cover multi-disciplinary curricula will be planned for this school year.
The type of guiding big questions that we believe will evolve are:
- How is our environment doing?
- How can we make a difference?
- How can we present information, ideas, and concerns to affect positive change?
Our goal is to motivate student driven stewardship action. Our focus is on the whole process of the child/nature experience. First just being in nature, then developing an awareness of nature, which in turn develops an appreciation for it. From this appreciation and love comes concern and this typically results in the desire to care, protect and provide stewardship. We want to use technology to record and enhance our experiences. By capturing the children’s interactions and reactions with nature, using the technology of the portable iPod touches and MacBook lap tops, we can allow them to bring these experiences into the classroom where they can reflect on them, research topics of interest to expand their knowledge, and then communicate what they feel, what they know, what their concerns are, and their plans for action to address their concerns. In this way we use technology and nature to teach to the minds and hearts of our students in a meaningful and relevant learning experience.
Children in elementary school need many experiences appreciating nature before they are ready to tackle the big questions around stewardship. We see the process flowing in a path guided by the teacher but driven by the students: from appreciation and sharing of feelings about nature come questions and concerns. From questions and concerns comes the quest for knowledge. From their quest for knowledge comes research and criterion referenced projects are developed determined by student choices.
The desire for stewardship action comes from the students as they go through this experiential process. Enacting environmental solutions is where their learning becomes the most real world and relevant and for this project will be the highest level of achievement. It forms personal beliefs and values that will continue throughout life long learning.
Examples of some potential environmental themes from which project based learning topics may develop include:
- Free exploration of nature
- Endangered wildflowers in the Garry Oak meadow
- Identification of native and invasive plant species in our school grounds- student made plant identification cards
- Pond habitat protection
- Local governmental decision making processes pertaining to hypothetical development of natural areas
- Problem solving proposals for the plastic bag island in the Pacific Ocean
- Ethnobotany and traditional uses of the plants in our local region
- Fine arts project making hallway banners with artist in residence
- Shared nature poetry
- Storm drain marking
- Testing the water outfalls to the ocean at beaches students play in to see if there are any harmful contaminants in them
- Learning about the importance of bees, building mason bee houses and researching types of different bees found in our area
- Photographing lichen and mosses of our ecosystem/local community and sending them to be published in e-fauna website
- Creation of a school garden for food production – lettuce, strawberries, blueberries
- Participating in beach clean up and to prevent plastics from getting to the ocean in the first place
- The collection and growing of seeds to grow propagate native plants.
- Stewardship of local parks with removal of invasive species such as ivy pull
- Communication of natural knowledge and concerns through technology
All of our projects encompass multiple experiences aimed at developing 21st century skills including collaboration, critical thinking and integration of technology. We have a strong desire to prepare our students for the world beyond our school; to carry their experiences with them as they continue to develop social and environmental responsibility.