You’ve heard the phrase, you’ve seen the photos, and your child may have even presented what they’ve learned to you. But what exactly does “project-based learning” mean?
According to the Duke School, “projects are in-depth investigations that challenge students to apply skills, knowledge, and strategies from different content areas as they do authentic research, analyze data, think deeply about problems and draw conclusions”.
Project-based learning is rooted in educational standards. Teachers design each project after thoroughly reviewing the grade-level standards to ensure that all topics within a standard are covered. Because projects are in line with educational standards, they naturally progress, building upon the previous year’s experiences. Here at Episcopal, students begin this type of learning as early as PreK-3 and PreK-4.
“Learning of this kind provides our students with the tools necessary to make the world a better place,” says Lower School Division Head Bridget Henderson. Henderson says project-based learning units all begin with the end in mind.
Units are divided into three phases, which include:
Henderson says in phase one students make a connection to the topic by discussing and writing about what they know and wonder about regarding that topic.
The hallmarks of Phase II are investigation and research. Here, students are exposed to concepts such as data collection and analysis, problem solving, and drawing and testing conclusions as they explore the topic in greater detail to become “experts”. In this phase, students often go on field trips or learn from guest speakers. They also participate in the hands-on activities that generate excitement and enthusiasm for learning.
“This is where the projects come to life,” says Henderson. She says students, who are now the experts, share their knowledge in some way. This can take the form of a presentation for family and friends or puppet shows for classmates.
First grade teacher Heather Harpole has been using project-based learning to teach since the approach was introduced at Episcopal in 2012. Harpole and her fellow educators trained at the Duke School to learn more about the process. She says she has seen that the learning-by-doing philosophy results in actively engaged students, who process and retain the information because they take ownership of the project.
Harpole and Henderson say Lower School staff are particularly fond of the project-based learning approach because it is student-centered and student-led. Harpole says that means that while the project topics may be the same each year, they feel completely different because of the changing student interests. A great example of this is the first grade “Healthy Selves” project. Harpole says her class was very focused on exercise, while another first grade class enjoyed learning more about healthy snacks. Being able to accommodate student interests, while meeting the educational standards, ultimately makes the units more interesting for both students and teachers.
Project-based learning also allows for a collective “buy-in” for student learning. Depending on the unit, parents and other faculty may be called upon to share their expertise. For example, parents who are also doctors or dentists served as experts for the “Healthy Selves” unit. Members of the physical education department also shared their knowledge on everything from weight-lifting safety and caring for a bleeding nose to hiking techniques and kayaking tips.
Both Harpole and Henderson say they’ve seen positive results from the project-based learning experience. Harpole says not only are the learning standards met, but the students are also excited about what they’ve learned. In fact, Harpole says it’s fairly common for parents to report back to her that students are sharing their newfound knowledge with the family. For example, students may advise parents not to drink too much coffee because of the risk of staining their teeth or they may ask for each food group to be represented at every meal.
Project-based learning has proven to be a useful and meaningful method for ensuring that students learn and grow in the type of joyful and educational environment provided in Lower School. To learn more and see photos of students engaged in project-based learning click here.
Only in Louisiana!
The Christmas trees are adorned with Tabasco, black bear and Blue Dog ornaments.
Eight year olds know that 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 is the Cajun waltz.
Frog legs, boudin balls and crawfish pie are on the menu.
Episcopal third graders recently studied and celebrated everything that is uniquely Louisiana. The project-based learning activity included trips to the Rural Life Museum, the Old State Capitol and the Knock Knock Children’s Museum. A range of cultural experts also shared their expertise on everything from Cajun dancing and cultivating Louisiana produce to jazz, blues and art.
Ultimately, students gained a wealth of knowledge about the state that we call home, from the river that runs through the red stick to the meaning behind Mardi Gras colors. They shared that knowledge with parents and visitors during the Louisiana Expo Day this week. The audience enjoyed a performance by the students followed by a dance lesson at the Cajun Dance Hall (Mrs. Bilskie’s room), snacks at the Cajun Café (Mrs. Pesson’s room) and Art on the Bayou (Mrs. Arceneaux’s room) where they learned to draw Blue Dog.
In a fashion that’s truly representative of the Bayou State, students were proud and eager to welcome visitors to their space. They were enthusiastic in serving food and even comfortable dancing. With all that Louisiana has to offer, the spirit and sense of family and community among its people are perhaps the true takeaway. #strongeruKnighted
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York Island,
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf stream waters,
This land was made for you and me.
-From This Land is Your Land by Woody Guthrie
The fourth graders recently shared their research connected with our first project-based learning unit on United States landforms and the National Parks. Research topics ranged from the Redwood Forest to the Great Smoky Mountains, Alcatraz to Ford’s Theatre, hiking to white water rafting, geysers to volcanoes, and Teddy Roosevelt and John Muir.
Students learned more about their topic by conducting research online. They presented their information on a tri-fold board or in Google Slides. Some groups extended their learning by creating activity books, building clay or Lego models, or conducting science demonstrations. These presentations were the culmination of an extensive, integrated project-based learning unit.
In science class, fourth graders learned about landforms and erosion. They also learned about specific landforms in the United States and how many of them are protected by the National Park Service. Students also used Virtual Reality viewers with the Google Expeditions app to "travel" to the National Parks. This unit extended into Social Studies, where students learned mapping skills, and into Language Arts, where students read the novel "Gone Fishing".
The enrichment teachers played an important role in enhancing our students' learning during this unit. Students learned American themed songs and movements that connected to the National Parks in Music class, which they performed for their families on presentation day. The PE teachers led an outdoor adventure unit that included kayaking in the pool, learning about fly fishing, and walking the Coach Dupe trail with veteran hiker Coach Cole. In Art, students created land art sculptures inspired by artist Andy Goldsworthy’s work. In Library, students learned the computer program Tinkercad to design a keychain connected with their research project that will be 3D printed.
The learning extended outside the classroom with a walk to nearby Jones Creek to study erosion, a field trip to the Louisiana Art and Science Museum to see a National Parks movie, and a fabulous hike to see some waterfalls at the Clark Creek Natural Area in Mississippi. Each fourth grader received a free one-year park pass from the Every Kid in a Park program, which is a national youth initiative that specifically encourages fourth graders and their families to explore our country’s natural wonders and historic sites. We hope everyone will get a chance to explore our nation’s great outdoors…from California to the Gulf Stream waters!
Rosalyn is in her seventeenth year of teaching. Prior to coming to Episcopal five years ago, she taught at independent schools in New York City and Los Angeles. She is in her third year of teaching fourth grade science and taught second grade for two years. Rosalyn earned her Bachelor’s degree in Biology at Whitman College and her Master’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education at New York University. She loves teaching science and finding ways to integrate technology and other subjects into the curriculum.
My favorite body part is ears because I like glamorous and beautiful earrings! I also like hearing Skip bark.
My favorite body part is hands because I like playing video games.
My favorite body parts are my joints. Those are your knees and elbows. They are my favorite because they help your legs and arms move.
From head to toe, Episcopal second graders are in-the-know about the human body! Students learned about six body systems in a six week project-based learning activity. At the end of the study, students wrote scripts and starred in videos explaining everything from the cerebellum to the diaphragm. Did you know babies have more bones than adults and there are over 650 muscles in the body? Click the videos below to see the second graders explain all of this and more about each system.
A trip to the second grade classrooms was like stepping into a science lab. Walls were adorned with posters showing everything from the students’ eye color to how many youngsters have broken a bone. There were fingerprints, models of the ribs and skeleton creations. All of this learning was organized into phases – writing, investigating, experimenting and experiencing. There were also special guest speakers, who truly made an impact on the students.
Dr. Jason taught us that it is important to keep our bones strong and you can do that by eating healthy and exercising.
I learned you have to wear sunscreen to not get a sunburn. The sun makes you get moles.
Your hair keeps you warm. Also your brain helps you think. Bones help you not wiggle.
The students’ favorite adults even had the opportunity to get involved as test subjects. Using brightly colored yarn, the students measured their adults’ jaws, hands, height and even digestive tract. The group celebrated the project completion with a cookie and individual books written by the students about the journey a cookie makes once eaten.
What a great way to learn about how the body works. If only Anatomy 101 could be so much fun!
Tucked into a quiet corner of campus, Frazer Hall is home to our youngest Episcopal Knights. Open the red doors and it is anything but quiet inside. The buzz and excitement of learning fills the air. PreK-4 students are engaged in their latest project: Exploring Communities.
In the project approach, students investigate meaningful questions that require them to gather information and think critically. Project-Based Learning isn't just about doing projects, but the process of students learning through projects. One of the critical pieces of gathering information involves interviewing “experts” who can provide students with answers to the questions they are researching.
We interviewed a cardiologist, Dr. Jeffrey Hyde, who taught us about keeping our heart healthy and how to take our pulse. He let us observe his surgical cap and stethoscope and even checked up on one of our friends who had been sick. She got a clean bill of health!
Restaurant owner, Rick Patel, shared his expertise in the food industry. We learned about eating and preparing healthy foods and practicing good hygiene during food preparation. Students especially enjoyed becoming a “sandwich artist” as Mr. Patel led a demonstration on how to roll Subway sandwiches.
We wrapped up this week with a visit from Avery Davidson, television news reporter for This Week in Louisiana Agriculture or TWILA. He brought the tools of his trade, a microphone and a camera. We watched how the video is recorded and edited for television. We enjoyed being silly and watching ourselves on camera.
Throughout the upcoming weeks, students will continue to explore the big question “What do I want to be when I grow up?” They will continue to tap into the talents of our Episcopal community with more guest experts including paramedics, an orthodontist and even a K-9 officer. At the conclusion of their project, PreK-4 will host a Career Day where students will share what they have learned from their experts about the many ways that they educate us, keep us safe and healthy, and create a caring community where we can grow up to achieve our dreams.
Julie Mendes, a 2001 graduate of Episcopal, returned to teach Pre-K4 at her alma mater in 2012. She received both her undergraduate degree and MEd in elementary education at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. After teaching second grade in a Dual Language program in Texas public schools for three years, Julie moved abroad to teach first grade at a bilingual school in Gracias, Lempira Honduras. Julie enjoys teaching alongside some of her former teachers and seeing what life is like on the other side of the desk.
On your mark. Get set. GO!
With that, the Episcopal first graders began the 2017 Healthy Selves Triathlon!
The first leg of the race required six year olds to swim the entire length of the pool. With stripes, polka dots, flags and fish themed bathing suits the children took to the pool with joy, excitement and surprisingly little splash. Meanwhile, parents cheered from the stands and coaches helped the swimmers cross the 25 meter pool. Afterwards, it was onto the bike lap which meant strapping on helmets and shoes and heading for the back of campus.
As they rounded the path, the youngsters were met by their classmates and friends from Pre-K and kindergarten who eagerly yelled through the playground fence. Once around, the students dropped their bikes and began the running lap. This is where they were met with the full force of the older Lower School students. Second graders chanted “Go 1st grade!” Parents and friends held posters and everywhere cameras were snapping. For the grand finale the students got to finish the triathlon with a run through the official Episcopal Knights football tunnel. What a day to be in first grade!
As the students told parents and staff before the triathlon began, the three sport event is the culmination of the Healthy Selves project based learning unit. Over the course of five weeks the students focused on what it means to be healthy. Students learned what constitutes a healthy plate, how to grow lettuce, how to make healthy snacks and smoothies and even how to stop a bleeding nose. There were yoga lessons, experiments on how germs spread and visits from a neurologist and dentist.
A project of this size requires tremendous collaboration between a range of teachers and staff. The PE teachers and coaching staff were all very involved along with the school chef, dance instructor and school nurse. The project truly highlights how project based learning touches every aspect of the child’s day and creates a team of school staff members ready and willing to help.
The hope is that such emphasis really makes an impact on the students and that the information is retained. Besides, how many six year olds can say they’ve completed a triathlon?!
To learn more about project based learning at Episcopal click here.
How would you brush your hair without using your hands?
This is a question being posed to students in one of the Design Studio courses being offered this year on campus through a partnership between Episcopal's Upper School and NuVu Studio of Cambridge, Massachusetts. As their introduction to NuVu’s methods, these students are asked to think beyond the brush and even consider the room around them in the components of their design. Naturally, they are fearless and simply dive into the project. A few begin browsing the internet to learn more about hair brushes, others begin sketching and brainstorming, while still others immediately begin cutting and measuring cardboard for their prototype. All of this is exactly what NuVu Fellow Dyani Robarge, Upper School Instigator Melissa Estremera, and I want the students to do.
NuVu describes itself as an innovation school. The overall concept was created by MIT graduates Saeed Arida, Saba Ghole, and David Wang, based on the architectural studio model and geared around multi-disciplinary, collaborative projects. In short, students are presented an open-ended question or challenge and asked to identify and create innovative tools or processes to solve it or improve upon it while working in collaborative groups.
This kind of smart, innovative learning is just what Head of School Hugh McIntosh envisioned bringing to the Episcopal School of Baton Rouge. Project-based learning is such an integral part of what happens here that NuVu was an easy addition to our campus. NuVu also answers the call for more hands-on learning opportunities for those students who learn best by doing.
NuVu offers a full-time school in Cambridge, Massachusetts for middle and high school students. The NuVu X program, which is what is offered on site at Episcopal, allows other schools to integrate NuVu’s approaches into their own school day. Former Episcopal board member Jennifer Eplett Reilly, Jewel Reuter, Sarah Pulliam and Hugh worked for some time to bring NuVu home to Episcopal. Now that the studio is up and running, our students have access to a laser cutter, 3D printers, a vinyl cutter, a workshop and even a sewing machine and fully stocked electronics cabinet. All of these tools help students make their designs a reality.
NuVu will be a constant partner in the Episcopal Design Studio courses, with Dyani Robarge serving as the school’s full-time, on-site Fellow. Dyani is an architectural designer, having earned a bachelor’s degree in architecture from Ohio State University and a Master’s of Advanced Architectural Design from Carnegie Mellon University. She previously worked for The Neighborhood Design Center and Triad Architects in Columbus, Ohio. Her areas of interest include building renovations, graphic design, model-making and data visualization. Together with Dyani, we will coach the students throughout the NuVu research, design and production process.
This year, the inaugural group of NuVu Episcopal students will tackle four large projects:
Elizabeth "Betsy" Minton is the Instigator at Episcopal School of Baton Rouge. She enriches instruction by generating interdisciplinary curriculum, spearheading hands-on, project-based learning, and supporting faculty in the application of education standards in innovative and creative ways. In addition, she coaches the Middle School robotics team and is the Design Studio coordinator. She has over a decade of elementary classroom experience in general and special education with graduate coursework in literacy, special education, and technology integration. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Bates College and was a 2002 Teach for America Corps member.
First grade students have been studying fairy tales in their Enchanted Engineering project-based learning unit. Story elements, such as characters, setting, and events, were studied during the unit so that students could have a better understanding of how stories are composed. Students were then tasked with identifying the elements of a self-selected fairy tale. Upon completing their fairy tale project planning folder, students had the task of retelling their stories. They created puppets for the characters in their fairy tales, and then they used the puppets to retell the beginning, middle, and end of their stories. Students worked hard to remember the events in order, change their voices to sound like the characters, and have a great time performing. They did an amazing job!
Kindergarten just finished a wonderful project focused on American Symbols. Students began the project by learning about our school, city and state. BREC’s Baton Rouge Mobile Zoo came and provided hands-on experiences with several Louisiana native species. The students interacted with turtles, owls, snakes and even an alligator!
As the project progressed, we learned about each of the four focus symbols through books, art, and music. We explored with Google maps. Guest experts visited to share their knowledge. Mr. McCrary helped us take virtual field trips to national landmarks and our nation’s capital using Google Expedition goggles. Our science instigator, Mrs. Minton, demonstrated what happens to the sound of a bell when it is cracked – just like the Liberty Bell. We had a visit from a Mississippi Kite raptor, a “cousin” of the bald eagle, and learned so many things about birds of prey. Ms. Tori Taylor helped us learn the words and melody of our national anthem.
During our Grand Finale, kindergartners dressed as various American Symbols and shared their knowledge with their families. To demonstrate their expertise, the children also wrote teaching books about their chosen symbol. The Statue of Liberty, bald eagle, Liberty Bell and American Flag have never looked so good!
The World Around You
Any interest in booking a vacation? Ready to escape to a faraway location? The second graders have you covered! Second graders welcomed families and friends to the Episcopal Travel Agency and International Zoo as the culminating project to “The World Around You” project based learning unit. With partners, students chose the country of their choice from a specific continent and then the fun began! Students had to research their chosen country, organize their findings, collaboratively decide how to organize their information as well as share it, and create an enticing display to draw potential travelers their way! Students presented information about their countries to prospective travelers practicing eye contact, articulation and voice projection, as well as confidently conveying their knowledge about their country. Visitors were greeted by “The March of the Penguins” lining their walk to the travel agency, as well as being able to browse the “zoos” filled with animals from each continent. After a morning of fun and excitement, our only question for you is, are you ready to book a trip with us today?!
“Too often we give children answers to remember, rather than problems to solve.”– Roger Lewin
Sixth Grade Science Classes recently spent 2 weeks following their units on Plate Tectonics, Volcanoes and Earthquakes participating in the Engineering process to research, design, build, test and revise models of structures that are “earthquake proof”. Students worked in teams to compile information in a shared google doc regarding the methods used by engineers to construct buildings in such a way that they can better withstand movements of the Earth that are associated with earthquakes. As a class, we performed activities, watched videos, read an interactive survival adventure novel and had numerous discussions to build our knowledge. Students created a blueprint of their building and were tasked with using the most basic supplies to create their structure. While building, students “tested” their buildings, discussing aspects that were successful and unsuccessful and making revisions to their structures.
In the ever changing world we exist in as educators, working in a 1:1 environment where students have technology and information at their fingertips all day, we are challenged to meet the needs of our students in a different way than ever before. Utilizing the technology available in creative, yet appropriate ways has proven to be both exciting and challenging. Approximately ten years ago, the idea of incorporating STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) concepts into our classrooms was introduced and has become increasingly popular as time passes. Students at all grade levels are being immersed in STEM activities, which allows them to build a variety of skills across disciplines.
As I facilitated various parts of this extensive project, I found myself in awe. Students were conversing with each other using academic vocabulary. They were working together to solve a problem where there was not one definitive answer or best solution. They were engaged in their conversations and work and were showing what they had learned by creating a model that displayed their learning. Using a shake table and tilt table built by Betsy Minton, students were able to evaluate the success of their structures by determining if their structures could survive shaking and measuring the angle that caused the building to topple over. Students were so effective at utilizing engineering design methods that they researched that the majority of the buildings were able to withstand the shaking of the shake table. In recent years, there has been a shift from delivering content, to allowing students to explore content, using it to solve real-world problems. Observing my 6th grade students research, collaborate, design, create, test and revise their prototypes made it evident that students are, indeed, benefiting from this shift.
Stacy Hill is currently in her 17th year in Science Education. Prior to teaching at Episcopal, she taught high school science, worked in East Baton Rouge Parish Public Schools in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction and taught Gifted Middle School Science. She earned her BS from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi and her M. Ed from LSU.
Happy 100th Birthday, National Park Service! During this NPS centennial year, the fourth graders became NPS Junior Rangers and recently shared their research about America’s natural treasures during a National Parks presentation for their families and the Episcopal community.
Students worked in groups to learn more about a certain national park. They gathered information, organized a presentation board, designed a junior ranger activity book, and created a stamp which was used to stamp parents' national parks passports during their visit. The National Parks presentations were the culmination of an integrated project based learning unit on US geography and landforms.
In science class, fourth graders learned about landforms and erosion. They also learned about specific landforms in the United States and how many of them are protected by the NPS. This unit extended into Social Studies, where students learned mapping skills, and into Language Arts, where students read landform poems.
The enrichment teachers played an important role in enhancing our students' learning during this unit. Students learned American themed songs and movements that connected to the national parks in Music class, which they performed for their families. They hiked from the school to nearby Forest Park during PE class. Beautiful landscape paintings based on landforms and national parks were painted in Art and are now displayed in the Lower School hallways. Students learned the computer program Tinkercad to design a national park keychain that is being 3D printed. Virtual Reality viewers with the Google Expeditions app were used so students could "travel" to various national parks.
This year, we have incorporated the Every Kid in a Park program, which is a White House youth initiative that specifically encourages fourth graders and their families to explore our country’s natural wonders and historic sites. Each fourth grader received a free one-year park pass. We hope everyone will get a chance to explore the outdoors and our nation’s famous landmarks!