Thursday, March 3, 2016

Project-based Learning gives Kindergarteners Agency

Guest Post by Paula Ford, Kindergarten teacher, 

Manuel De Vargas Elementary School in San Jose, California

Manuel De Vargas Elementary @DeVargas, is a Title I school in the Cupertino Union School District in California. We have over 29 languages spoken at our school. Our school is in year 2 of transitioning to a STEM Project Based Learning School. I wanted to share with you how my kindergarteners took charge of their learning around one of our projects.

Thinking and discussing…

Originally my kindergarteners decided they wanted to collect books to send to kids in Africa. We have a global partnership with the Cheery Education Center in Kenya. Their plan was to decorate boxes, put them by classrooms and have the whole school bring in donations. I asked them, “how will you let all the other learners know about your project?” After some thought and discussions, they concluded that I needed to contact each teacher. My response was that this would then be my project, when actually this needs to be their project. Hmmmm. More thinking and discussing. Then they remembered we have video announcements done by our school video production crew. So, the kids decided we could make a video explaining our Project-Based Learning (PBL) activity to ask for help.

More research…

We found out it costs over $65.00 to ship a medium sized box to the Cheery Education Center in Africa. I brought the box into class and then we saw that it only held 8 books. So, we went back to our “what do we know” information and realized that it costs $50 for 2 children to attend school with meals for a month in Africa. That seemed like a more realistic project compared to sending 8 books for $65.00. So, we went back to the drawing board and the kids decided to collect coins. I explained the bank idea and that is how the kids came up with the collection jars called “Change for Change.”

They designed the signs on all the jars, loaded up my wagon, and made the deliveries throughout the school. They chose the groups to work on speeches for their video presentations. Each group had a different subtopic on our Africa PBL. Then we worked with our big 4th grade buddies to practice fluency, voice projection, eye contact, etc. Finally, we filmed it in front of the Chroma Key Green Screen. The big buddies were there watching the filming, and it was so cute how invested they were in my kids performance.

Pop-up store...

Some of the kinder kids made African inspired crafts to sell at a “pop-up store” on campus to donate the money to the African school. They figured out pricing, and ran the store during recess, lunch and after school. Another group of kinders wanted to make a web-page of sorts (like Go Fund Me). We used the large Apple TV so that they could be active participants in the process of designing the web page (drag and drop, etc). They put up some artwork and writings of what they have learned. In PE, the kids learned African dances. I have been teaching them all African rhythms with the rhythm sticks (great for learning syllables). In science, they learned about what people need to survive (focusing on our PBL in Africa). Our collection jars, “Change for Change,” are now in every classroom. My kids have made four videos for our video announcements about Africa.

AfricanMasks 3 girls.JPG
      African Masks

It was a great PBL...

We just finished our Africa PBL. Before they got the money, they had to decide as a group how they were going to count the money (i.e. stacks of 10 pennies in groups of 10 stacks, or stacks of 4 quarters, etc.). After we collected the jars and sorted the money, we invited our 4th grade buddies to help us count.

    Fourth grade buddies collecting change

The grand total was $470! We went back to our PBL board and talked about what that amount of money can provide. We were able to send over 18 kids to school for an entire month including meals with left-overs to pay for other incidental items.

African Dance.JPG
       African Dancing

Next PBL...

Our next PBL will be on endangered animals. The deliverable will be a 6 second Vine type video where a collaborative group will talk about why their animal is endangered and advocate for its protection. They can choose to do a song, skit, poster, speech, or whatever they want to demonstrate their understanding and to convey their message.



My name is Paula Ford. I graduated from University of California at Davis with my Bilingual Cross-cultural Language and Academic (BCLAD) multiple subject teaching credential, and have been teaching for over twenty years. I began my career in bilingual education, and then moved to teaching second language learners. I have taught kindergarten, first grade, third grade, and have been a resource teacher for grades transitional kindergarten through fifth grade. The majority of my career has been teaching low-socioeconomic English language learners. 

Currently, I am teaching kindergarten at Manuel De Vargas Elementary School, and I absolutely love it.

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