Learning Is... Project Based

Posted by Alicia Bjork on 5/2/2014

During Summer 2013, a special opportunity was provided for teachers at North Park when a consultant from the Buck Institute was contracted to deliver the 3-day Project Based Learning 101 training. Thirty-five members of our professional learning community were able to learn the ins and outs of PBL and plan a unit for implementation this year.

In third grade we decided to take a problem solving approach to our first PBL unit. It has been our intention to do something relevant to improve the North Park community. We started by presenting our third graders with the following question:  How can we transform our interior courtyard into useful space for our school community?


The students started this project with the limitless imaginations of  children.  Our first drafts included water slides, roller coasters and whole towns complete with joke shops, grocery stores and McDonalds. Throughout the year students have worked to revise these initial ideas into original, well-developed plans that I never would have expected to come from 8 and 9 year olds.

After going through several "reality checks", their plans and their imaginations have transformed them into innovative thinkers who develop creative solutions to problems.  Or, in the words of one of our third graders, "we worried about negatives that we might have and used the engineering design process to think about solutions." Their words, not mine.


They presented me with many problems and solutions that I hadn't thought of, such as growing more plants in the courtyard will improve our air quality.  Or that we should include raised garden beds to make the gardening experience accessible to students in wheelchairs.  They told me that taking care of our courtyard will give all students a real-life lesson in responsibility and included a greenhouse or retractable glass roof (that limitless imagination is still there) that will allow us to grow plants year round.  

I have no doubt that the skills that they have acquired during this project will not soon be forgotten and will prove to be useful throughout their lives.  They have left the dream world of children and are now focused on dreaming up better world or at least a better courtyard, for all of us.  I could not be any more proud.