Project-Based Learning for Homeschools and Remote Learning

“One of the major advantages of project work is that it makes school more like real life. It’s an in-depth investigation of a real-world topic worthy of children’s attention and effort.”-Education researcher Sylvia Chard

I couldn’t agree more with the quote above, but I’d like to add that in Project-Based Learning (PBL), students have a chance to integrate all of the skills they learn in different content areas…reading, writing, math, science, technology, critical thinking, creativity, and communication. The projects I’m sharing with you in this post would be perfect for implementing in either a homeschool setting a remote/digital learning platform.

1. TpT Buyers Passion Projects UnitPassion Projects: Hands down, this is one of THE BEST projects that I have done with students!  I first implemented it while working as a Gifted and Talented Facilitator at an elementary school. In one of the GT resources left for me in the cabinet, I found a page in a book that gave some ideas for doing something called “Passion Projects”. Immediately my interest was piqued and I began making plans to start this with all of my GT groups! Since a child, I have always been consumed with many passions…reading, history, learning, favorite TV shows/movies/music, family history, traveling, and photography. It dawned on me that I didn’t know what passions my students had and I set about finding out. I then put this project together as I went along. I have the entire unit, step by step, in a  Teachers Pay Teachers product (ON SALE FOR THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE). Below is an outline of how I facilitated the project:

  • I first facilitated discussions on what “passion” actually meant and what THEY were passionate about. I then had students survey other teachers, staff members and students as to what they were passionate about.
  • Next, I helped them to narrow down their huge topics, (such as Basketball or Minecraft) into something more manageable by having them create an essential question…something they want to explore within that huge topic. Thus the project became an Inquiry Project.
    • Examples of Essential Questions (from my former students!)
      • How and when were dogs domesticated?
      • How can I create a remote-controlled model airplane that will actually fly?
      • How do I become a master Lego builder?
      • How do you use Redstone in Minecraft?
      • What are the different steps it takes to write and publish a book?
      • How is math used in video games?
      • What are the origins of hockey?
  • I had students seek out an expert on their topic so they could interview them…whether it was a friend of their parents, a book author (one author actually did a phone call with my student!), or someone we found online and contacted. With my help, we were able to find experts for every student!
  • Next came the research…students used their experts’ information, the internet, books, magazines, and online articles. I had them use a graphic organizer (copy in the product) to organize their research. I had to remind them to make sure the information they were collecting directly related to that Essential Question.
  • Once their research was done, they were given a choice of how they wanted to display their project…display board, Google Slideshow, video, self-made book, demonstrations, experiments, etc. I then set up a day where students were able to present their project to parents, school staff and other students. Even if your child is at home while schools are closed, it’s important they present, even if it’s via Facetime or Google Hangout to family, relatives, friends, classmates, their teacher, etc. 
  • Check out. few sample projects below!

My Passion Project Unit has ALL the templates and directions for this project. You can also check my previous blog on Passion Projects!

D924823A-11D4-4257-BDD9-1A2682751549Informational Text Project:
My 3rd-grade student and I read this Reading a-z leveled book together and she really connected with it because her family travels quite a bit. We began researching the beaches she read about and finding photos. She put all of her learnings from the book, new learning from her internet research, and photos into a Google Drive presentation. Not long after, her family traveled to Hawaii and she got to visit a black sand beach and brought back a bottle of black sand! She was so excited to show it to me!

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Choose Your Own Adventure Project: Remember these books? They were SO popular back when I was teaching in the 90s! Now your kids can create their own with a Google Slides template! To begin the project, I had my student go through a sample CYA slideshow to get a feel for how this genre works. I then had my student come up with a story idea, plan out settings, characters, plot, and the resolution. For several of the plot points, I had him come up with four different choices that the reader could take. Next came the photos for the presentation. I had him use either Pixabay or Unsplash to find photos, as these are all open source and copyright free.  With his story plan, choices and photos ready, he was ready to start on the slideshow template…and he REALLY enjoyed it! The hardest part was keeping all the slides straight so that when the reader clicks their choice, they are taken to the correct slide. Check out his finished version here and be careful making your choices!

Copy of 25 Poppasome Tokens of AppreciationNational Monument Project: This project was created after my first EVER visit to Washington D.C. last spring. Being a teacher and a history fan, I was thrilled beyond belief to see our nation’s iconic buildings and monuments. Being the teacher I am, I started wondering how many kids know WHAT our National Monuments are and WHO they honor, so I created a Google Slideshow using my photos from my visit, and showed my students the monuments and had them try to identify them. Sadly, not many were able to identify them, no matter what grade they were in! So the slideshow turned into another Teachers Pay Teachers product…including the initial slideshow and a project involving reading, writing, research, technology, and creativity on famous Americans who also need to have a National Monument.

  • We explored ideas for famous Americans who should have a monument using the internet, articles and background knowledge. Once the student settled on a person, I gathered books, online articles, and videos together to help the student research. I had each create a thesis to help narrow down the research, just like the Essential Question in the Passion Project. Here are a few of their thesis statements:
    • Neil Armstong should have a monument because he was the first man to step on the moon and more.
    • Many famous Americans have national memorials, but one that is missing is Katherine Johnson, who inspired many girls and women throughout the world TO NEVER GIVE UP ON THEIR DREAMS! Here are the reasons that Katherine Johnson needs a national monument.
    • There are many monuments honoring famous Americans. There is one missing, female codebreakers from WWII. They broke drug and spy rings and helped the US military win WWII. Their work was the foundation for cybersecurity. Not many people know about their work. Women codebreakers definitely need a monument. 
  • After using all forms of media for research, the students created a Google slideshow. I then helped them write narration. We downloaded the slideshow into Keynote (PowerPoint will work too!), had them add narration and export into a video.
  • I then had the student create a model of the research and let them choose the medium they wanted to use. One student chose to do a 3D virtual model using a website called 3D Slash, and two others chose to use modeling clay and paint. They first designed their monument on paper, then launched into their creations. You can see their final products
  • Finally, we downloaded the slideshow into Keynote (PowerPoint will work too!), had them add narration and export into a video.
  • Check out their finished versions with the links below and the slideshow of their project work.

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I am so proud of these students and I know this would be perfect for your students while they are undertaking homeschooling or remote learning at home.  The initial slideshow and all instructions and templates can be found in my Teachers Pay Teachers product, which just like the Passion Project, is ON SALE to help parents and teachers during this unprecedented time. Please let me know of any questions you have and how I can help in the comments below!

 

 

Reading Resources for Homeschool and Remote Learning

“The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other. Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives.” – Robert John Meehan.

Right now, many parents are having to become their child’s teacher and it’s so important that teachers and parents support each other during the coronavirus and school closures! I’ve seen that all the teacher-bloggers are writing about how parents can support their child’s learning at home, and how teachers can set up remote learning opportunities for their child. I thought I would weigh in on some of my favorite resources for teaching reading that can easily be used at home.

Newsela: Grades 3-12:  I have used this website full or informational articles for years, even though in the last year they made much of the content only accessible via a paid subscription. But upon visiting their website today, I saw this amazing announcement!

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The articles are either taken from newspapers around the world and adapted for various reading levels, or are written specifically for students. In addition to news articles, they have biographies, primary sources, famous speeches, and pro/con pieces. Each article comes with a writing prompt and a quiz. The quizzes can be very challenging, and I spend time teaching my students how to use close reading for the questions and strategies for choosing the correct answer.  I have used this Newsela reading log for my students to keep track of their articles and scores. I have also used a Google spreadsheet with bar graphs for a more visual representation of the students’ progress; feel free to copy the sample and use it for your child or students! FYI…parents can sign up for a parent account!


Readworks (1st – 12th): Both parents and teachers can sign up for free accounts on this outstanding website for reading passages. You can find fiction stories, narrative poems, biographies, and informational articles on anything. Each passage comes with a question set, vocabulary activities and a writing prompt that always requires the student to provide text evidence in their response. I used these free resources from Jennifer Findley’s website to help students with finding evidence.  Readworks is also offering tips on remote learning, as well as a webinar on “Effective Remote Learning”; click HERE for more information.


Learning A-Z/Reading A-Z (K-8): Learning A-Z is offering FREE digital resources to teachers for the rest of the school year…learn more HERE! I love this website so much that when I started my tutoring business, I bought a yearly subscription for $109.95 – one of the best buys ever! This website has leveled books, both fiction and non-fiction, as well as phonics, sight word, and reading comprehension passages and activities.  I could not begin to dream of teaching reading without this website! Important tip: In order to save paper and printing costs, I download the books or passages on my Macbook, put them in my iCloud folder and then open up the folder on my iPad for students to read. They can also highlight the text on the iPad!

And….if this website wasn’t already incredible, they recently added graphic books! This has been a HUGE hit with my tutoring students!


Common Lit (Grade 3-12) is yet another excellent website for students to practice reading skills and strategies, and both teachers and parents can sign up for accounts. You can students into your roster, then assign reading passages (they have both fiction and informational text, as well as excerpts from novels) that come with an assessment and writing and discussion prompts. My favorite feature is being able to turn on the “guided reading mode” which allows the student to read part of the article, then answer a comprehension question before more text appears. This helps the student to read for meaning and think about the text while reading. For my tutoring students who are struggling readers, this is a huge help! Here’s their information on how they can help teachers with remote learning. (Note: While they have some passages for younger students, it’s mostly geared for grades 5 and up.)

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Just a few more online reading resources…

Tween Tribune from the Smithsonian – reading passages for K-12
Colorado Kids and the Mini Page
Kids’ Magazines (see photos below)

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Tell me in the comments about other reading resources for learning at home and watch for more posts soon on resources for teaching writing and math virtually or at home! Remember, we’re all in this together!

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CCIRA 2020 Recap: Ideas Galore for Teachers!

Anyone who stops learning is old, whether twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing you can do is keep your mind young.  Mark Twain

I have been attending the wonderful CCIRA (Colorado Association of the International Literacy Association) conference for over 20 years, and have presented there many times, including two different presentations this year, one on using Lego projects to foster reading and writing skills, the other on teaching literacy through genre studies (More on these presentations in future blogs!). I chose these session topics since the theme of the conference was “Innovation: Imagining the future of literacy.” While working in schools, I used shared my notes and learnings with the teachers at my school, but since I’m retired, I’m going to share all that I learned about teaching reading and writing with all of you!  I hope that you are able to grab a few good ideas from the sessions I attended.

At her session on teaching writing skills first to students so they can learn to read as a writer, Colleen Cruz, one of the authors of the Units of Study series, shared several ideas that resounded with me:

  • We need to let kids talk about books that they “love to hate”. Of course, as teachers, we always need to foster a love (or at least a strong liking) for reading, but it’s unrealistic to expect that all students will love all the books they read. We teachers all have books we LOVE to hate! Mine are a few gems from Honors English in high school: The Odyssey by Homer and The Prince by Machiavelli. There are several books I’ve abandoned as adults, but I can’t say I hated them like I hated those two. What about you? What books do you love to hate?  Share in the comments below!
  • Cruz made a great point about the difference between editing and revising, saying that anyone can edit writing, even someone else’s writing. But not just anyone can revise someone’s writing…the author should be the only one to. This gave me a pause, as while working with students on many a writing piece, I feel that the younger students need to have someone explicitly model how to revise as that is a very high-level thinking skill. They can quickly understand the concept of fixing mistakes, but too often they feel that once that is done, they are done with the piece. I’ve had to approach this skill very tactfully, by giving them suggestions and ideas on improving their writing such as, “Do you think it would make more sense…” or “Do you think this sounds better…” or “Would your character really say or do this?” But I fully agree that once students are older and understand the concept of revising, they should be in charge of the revision.
  • Critical literacy was a theme at not only Cruz’s presentation, but at a session on Media Literacy, presented by Tracie King, a media specialist from my former district, Douglas County Schools in Colorado. Both Cruz and King shared videos from the Fortnite game. We had discussions about not only the violence in the videos but the lack of emotion from the characters when they end up to be the last man standing…having killed all the others and blown up many buildings. Cruz made the point that video games have become the new “backyard”; many parents just open the back door and let them go play, without thinking of the consequences of what they might be playing at. She also had kids watch a video clip from Thor and count how many times violent acts appear in the video. King uses these questions adapted from the Center for Media Literacy:Screen Shot 2020-02-08 at 1.28.12 PM
  • I once again attended an excellent presentation on exploring narrative possibilities by a former Douglas County district colleague, Jennifer Gottshalk, a writing specialist.  She offered so many fun ideas for kids in narrative writing:
    • She presented several old, run-of-the-mill prompts to use on National Tell a Lie Day, April 4th (I had no idea this holiday existed). She had us take one of these “tired” prompts and craft a believable lie around it. I wrote one about a trip to Australia (never been there) and the horrific journey there, with canceled flights, terrible hotels, etc. IMG_5967
    • Another great option for writing prompts…a kid-friendly version of the Cards Against Humanity, called Not Parent Approved.  This game (which I am planning to get for the whole family, grandkids included) has some hysterical prompts on cards that your students would love writing about!Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.08.12 AM
    • Another fabulous idea…you can type in your search bar the words: Visual Writing Prompt and find some amazing ideas to use with your students! You can filter the results to match your grade level or types of prompts (note: check it out first on your own before you project to students; internet searches can yield some “interesting” things!)Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.04.05 AM
      • Jennifer offered another source for photos, but without captions, for writing prompts, Unsplash. My tip for the same kind of photos is Pixabay.
    • A few other ideas for writing prompts from Jennifer:
      • What is the “cheese touch” on your school’s playground? (And check out the hilarious clip from The Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie!)
      • How about this for a prompt…memoirs from a Disney Princess (or any other franchise character kids like!). Jennifer first showed us this video clip from Wreck-it Ralph which features pretty much every Disney princess ever…this will help kids to choose one. Here’s my “memoir” from Cinderella: “Everyone remembers me as sweet, good, kind, cheerful, blah blah blah. But that’s not really me…that’s what you saw in the movie. I am a fully rounded person with good AND bad traits! For example, when riding the royal carriage, I silently swear at other carriage drivers. I also send anonymous hate Tweets to my stepmother and stepsisters (they deserve it!). And, when eating at the royal banquets, I’m supposed to eat like a bird, so I grab some extra rolls and put them in my royal handbag to enjoy later…”
    • By the way, Jennifer is a published author of some young adult books! Check out her website!Screen Shot 2020-02-09 at 10.32.33 AM
  • Todd Mitchell, another Colorado children’s book author, shared with us some ideas for quick writing games, mostly around poetry. One is a “Lost and Found” poem; he had us make a list of things we have lost, then things we have found. He said these items you love and find should not be objects; he pushed us (as we should do with students), to go deeper than that. Here is my attempt as the poem:
    • I lost…my ability to go down the stairs without holding on to a rail.
    • I lost my little daughters who are now grown up into young women.
    • I lost my “school family” when I retired.
    • I found my purpose when I became a teacher
    • I found sleep when I retired from teaching
    • I found a new family when I married my husband.
  • After we wrote these poems in our session, he asked someone to share, then he had another person volunteer to be the “official listener”; they were the person who would listen carefully, then volunteer their feedback. Todd only allows positive feedback from the official listener. I think this is such a great idea; this ensures that someone is going to offer the brave soul who shares their poem some feedback!

That wraps up my feedback for CCIRA! I hope that you are able to try a few of these ideas in your classroom; if you do, please post in the comments!  Stay tuned for my blog posts on using Legos for reading and writing activities and teaching literacy through Genre Studies (Part 2). Here are a few sneak peek photos!

Persuasive Writing Project: What Famous American Needs a National Monument?

In my last blog post, I shared resources for helping students learn about our nation’s capital and national monuments, as well as a new TpT product I created, inspired on my trip to Washington D.C. I have been using this activity with a few of my tutoring students, and it’s going SO well! I hope that you will get just as excited about this idea as I am and consider using this in your elementary or secondary classroom next year!

Screen Shot 2019-05-21 at 7.07.46 PMI first started out showing a presentation (the TpT product) to see if they recognized and knew what the monuments were for and who/what they honored. Next, I showed my students photos of some Americans who do NOT have a national memorial and may deserve one (this is also in the presentation).

Famous Americans without monumentsI had my students choose one of these individuals or groups I had on a list (see right) or they could also choose someone of their own choice). Next came research to find out what these people did to make them worthy of our acclaim. To save time in our hour-long tutoring session, I linked some Newsela articles and web pages from kid-friendly sites such as Ducksters and Kiddle. After researching and taking notes, I let the students choose to do either a persuasive writing piece or presentation to convince others that this person or group deserves a monument!

Finally, I plan to have the students design the memorial, using online tools/apps, drawing or building. (I will update on that later!) I also love the idea of using Legos…this idea came from a recent blog from Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher!

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One of my students chose Katherine Johnson, the famed NASA “computer” whose work helped astronauts get to the moon.  She is using this graphic organizer on the left to research. Another student chose the female codebreakers from WWII and chose to not do the organizer, but still is taking notes in an organized method (photo on above right).  This student and I are beginning our tutoring sessions with code-breaking activities; some from the Kid’s Zone on the CIA website and some Crypto Mind Benders from The Critical Thinking Co.  He brought one of his school papers to show me that he had written his name in code and his teacher figured it out! Check out our photos below:

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To help him with his thesis statement for his persuasive presentation, I had him use a graphic organizer from ASCD that I’ve used with students in the past. It is such a simple, visual way for students to craft this statement. I first modeled for him as if I was doing my research on why Sacagawea needs a national monument. Our thesis statements actually ended up more like opening paragraphs, but that’s okay. He got the idea!

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I am so excited to see what my other students do with this activity; I plan to have more do it over the summer, so watch for further updates! My next blog will continue my “Travel and Teaching” theme, with more resources for students to learn about our nation’s capital and another TpT product to go along!

In the meantime, be sure to check out this National Monuments presentation and activity in my Teachers Pay Teachers store (and please follow me on TpT as I only have six followers…)

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Our School Wide Star Wars Day

A long time ago (well two years ago today), in a school far, far away (actually about a 30 minute drive), my students and I planned a school-wide Star Wars Day for May the 4th!  Enjoy our photos and hopefully this will give you some ideas for your own classroom or school Star Wars Day! May the 4th be with you!

During my last year before retirement, while working as a GT Facilitator, my entire theme for my gifted and talented students was Growth Mindset. Check out this past blog on how I used this theme throughout the year. My students and I were all big Star Wars fans, so I led them through some project-based learning to plan and carry out a school-wide Star Wars Day! I gave the reins to the kids and had them meet with the principal to get permission, plan with the building engineer for what we would need for the day, and create presentations, a trivia game, and morning announcements promoting the event.  Check out the slideshows below to see all we did! And a HUGE thank you to my former students who helped me plan and carry out this day!

Planning

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The Big Day

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Star Wars Day Fashion

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Be sure to check out my Pinterest board on Star Wars in the classroom!

A huge thank you to George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars saga, and founder of the George Lucas Educational Foundation (Edutopia)!

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