Project-Based Learning in the Elementary Classroom & PebbleGo
What is Project Based Learning?
Project-based learning, often shortened as PBL, is a research based, student-centered instructional approach where students are given the tools to research, explore and learn about real-world topics and problems.
A typical project-based learning activity starts with a challenge or question. These questions may be posed by the teacher or can be student generated. Students work in teams to research the topic and then produce an artifact to present or share their learning.
The research and exploration stages of Project Based Learning can be completed digitally on PebbleGo.
Project based learning couples well with the STEAM or STEM curriculum because the methodology is very similar to the scientific method. Most PBL approaches call for students to:
- explore a topic
- define a problem
- research & investigate
- present a solution
- review / receive feedback
Teachers may act as facilitators during each stage of the project and adapt for individual student needs. While there are many benefits to PBL in the classroom, there are some hesitations on the part of elementary teachers to fully adopt it. But project-based learning can absolutely be a worthwhile activity – even with students in kindergarten and first grade classrooms!
Keep reading to learn how PebbleGo can help teachers implement project based learning successfully and how students of all ages benefit.
Benefits of Project Based Learning
Using a project-based learning approach has many benefits for students such as:
- imparting a deeper understanding of concepts and a broader knowledge of the subject area
- improving teamwork, communication, and leadership skills
- tapping into creativity and design thinking
- practicing authentic writing & speaking skills
- fostering independence
- developing research skills
However, the main drawback for elementary teachers, especially teachers in Kindergarten through third grade is that implementing PBL successfully can be tricky when young students are still developing the independence (and reading skills!) needed to guide their learning.
Teachers need access to quality resources that allow all students to pursue their interests, build background knowledge and research a variety of topics.
Resources should have enough information for students to learn something new but be age appropriate so students are able to deepen understanding.
I recommend a mix of digital resources and a curated collection of texts and reference materials to build the foundation of project-based learning in the classroom.
Digital Resources for Project Based Learning
Research & Exploration
PebbleGo by Capstone is a digital content learning hub specifically designed for K-3 students.
With over 1000 articles in the PebbleGo database, there are sure to be plenty of resources to support students in whatever project or inquiry they are pursuing. Plus, the audio option available in every article means students can listen to the text as it is read aloud. This allows students of all abilities to access the content as well as develop their reading fluency and comprehension skills.
The PebbleGo site is easy for students to access and navigate. Students can build their background knowledge about a topic on PebbleGo without relying on the teacher to provide the resources and guidance.
The images and video on PebbleGo help students to make connections and build vocabulary.
By helping K-3 students to research topics independently, PebbleGo frees up teachers to support the other phases of project-based learning in the classroom.
I recommend a choice menu of favorite digital creation tools for artifact creation along with a makerspace for any hands-on projects. Flipbooks, posters, models, dioramas, and books/booklets all can be utilized as final products. It ultimately depends on the project and your access to devices and materials.
My favorite digital tools for creation:
- Google Slides
- Pic Collage
- AR Makr
- Microsoft Sway
- Book Creator
- Adobe Spark
If students can’t present “live” to the class, digital options are the next best things and often students prefer to present via recording as it helps with confidence and often adds a layer of tools to make the presentations more dynamic.
After researching the seasons using this lesson & graphic organizer on PebbleGo, students can present a weather report on Flipgrid.
My favorite digital sharing tools
- Draw & Tell
Getting Starting with PBL Using PebbleGo
If you are looking for ready-made PBL lessons, PebbleGo has many standards-based content area project based learning lesson plans with printable graphic organizers to get you started. See all of the lesson plans & activities here.
My favorite PBL lessons on PebbleGo are perfect for the STEM subject areas:
- ENDANGERED ANIMAL PSA
- INVENT A NEW MACHINE
- SEASONS APP AND NEWS REPORT
- 3D SHAPE HUNT
- CREATE A PLANET PUZZLE LESSON PLAN
These are great lessons for any teacher looking to integrate more inquiry-based activities in the classroom. Each lesson plan includes printables that help students organize their research, but the activities are open-ended enough to give students choice.
Students research simple machines and apply what they learned to invent a new machine in this PebbleGo PBL lesson.
All of the research can be done right in PebbleGo, so you will know students are getting quality and age-appropriate information.
Student Choice & Voice With PebbleGo
One of the main pieces of project-based learning that really motivates students and deepens student understanding of a topic is allowing student choice to drive the project. Young students may need some scaffolding at first but in general, allow students to have a say in:
- what they learn about
- who they work with
- how they will present their learning
Have students use PebbleGo to get ideas or learn more about a topic of interest. Keyword guided search, breadcrumbs, a “read more” tab with related articles, and even a “random” article spinner at the top all allow for easy exploration on the site.
Using digital tools like PebbleGo will help teachers implement project based and inquiry led learning in the elementary classroom, and students will benefit greatly from the process. While it can seem scary to give over control to your students, especially in K-3, students are so much more engaged when their interests, questions, and experiences are centered!
Have you tried project-based learning in your classroom? Are you using PebbleGo to support student research and exploration? What are your favorite PBL lessons and activities?
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