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Project Based Learning in the Primary Classroom: Part 2


Note:  This is the second post in a two-part series.  See the first post here.

Now that you know the components of Project-Based Learning, I want to share a step-by-step example illustrating how I walked through a project with my primary kiddos.

As a disclaimer, the project I am about to share is not perfect. It's a work in progress (aren't they all?), and I'm sure I'll continue to tweak it in the years to come. That said, I hope this will still provide a practical example of how you can pull off a project of this scale in a primary classroom. Here's how you can make it happen!

1. Present the Essential Question and Brainstorm Solutions
As I wrote in my last post, our essential question for the project was, "How can we use economics to bring justice to the world?" I started off by presenting the students with some background knowledge: families in many countries around the world depend upon cows and other livestock for their livelihoods, but they often don't have enough. Next, I framed a central problem. Cows, which can provide extra income, cost around $500 in many countries, and that's often beyond the reach of the families that would benefit most. How could our class earn that much money and help a family develop a more sustainable livelihood? I created a problem and solution chart and had students share their ideas for how they could solve this problem. The teacher is the facilitator in this step, and can guide students towards the idea of creating their own businesses.

2. Brainstorm Ideas Individually
A few years ago, I read the book Quiet by Susan Cain. I'm an introvert myself, and this book helped me better understand how to operate well in a group setting. Jumping right into brainstorming without quiet time to think is an incredibly stressful experience for me, and I don't typically feel comfortable processing things verbally in front of others. According to Cain, it turns out that extrovert-oriented brainstorming sessions don't necessarily lead to the best ideas. Everyone, whether introvert or extrovert, has the best ideas when they are given time to think quietly on their own before coming together with a larger group. I see individual brainstorming time as one of the most important steps of the problem-solving process. Giving your students time to think individually before they collaborate with peers will help them prepare their valuable contributions to their group.

3. Collaborate as a Group 
After students have written down their individual business ideas, it's time for them to share their concepts with their group. Before your students break off into groups, review and model appropriate social skills for collaboration. I can't say this often enough: assume nothing and model everything. It's easy for adults to take for granted the skills we've mastered for working well with others. Don't forget, though, that learning how to speak is a relatively recent event in your primary students' lives. They've only been using complete sentences for a few years! It's completely reasonable and absolutely necessary to set aside time to practice how to respectfully disagree and make compromises with others. When your students do break off into their teams to share their individual ideas and come up with a group concept, remind them that they'll be allowed to tweak their ideas in the future. This isn't set in stone after the first group meeting!

4. Explore the Topic in Other Content Areas
This is the fun part for me. I love referring back to my Curriculum Map and bringing the economics theme into other subject areas. Take this opportunity to cover your measurement and data standards on the value of money, hit your language arts standards on persuasive writing by creating advertising for stores, and address reading comprehension standards by reading books and articles about finances and businesses.

ReadWorks is a fabulous resource for leveled articles, and you can search for resources about economics by your students' grade level. There is a wealth of quality children's literature with this theme, too. Here are some titles to help you get started!


1. A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
2. Pedrito's Day by Luis Garay
3. A Day's Work by Eve Bunting
4. Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday by Judith Viorst
5. Once Upon a Dime by Nancy Kelly Allen
6. Chicken Sunday by Patricia Polacco
7. A New Coat for Anna by Harriet Ziefert
8. Those Shoes by Maribeth Boelts

5. Develop a Prototype and Revise
Learning how to make a plan before diving into a project is an invaluable skill that will benefit your students throughout their lives. (It's something I'm still working on myself!) Before handing over any project materials for making store products, have your students work with their team to draw a detailed plan or build a prototype out of inexpensive materials. That way, when you hand over the real supplies for creating the products to sell, your students will have a clear end goal in mind. This also helps to resolve disputes about product designs before they even start!

6. Create a Final Product
Now the fun part: give your students time to create their final products! Don't be shy about asking for help from parent volunteers, and I would recommend distributing only a few supplies at a time. For example, if you have a group painting toy cars, don't give them all 20 cars at once. Give them just a few to work on initially so that there is a higher quality of workmanship. Discuss with your students the importance of offering quality products in your store.

7. Share Learning with the Community
After all of that work developing their businesses, your class will be ready to celebrate! As a culmination of the project, host a market on your school campus to sell the products the students made. Again, don't be shy about recruiting volunteers! After the market, help your students calculate their earnings, pay back their loans, and use the profits to buy a cow for a family in the developing world.

8. Reflect on Learning
A final, critical component of Project-Based Learning is allowing your students to reflect on their experiences. Remember, you built in room for failure, and your students learned a lot through the process of fixing those mistakes or revising their plans. That's the whole point of Project-Based Learning. This reflection step will solidify for your students what they would like to do differently when you take on your next big project together as a class.

Do you feel ready to get started? If you are looking for a resource to make your first experience with Project-Based Learning a breeze, I have good news! I've included ALL of the printable materials you'll need for this project, as well as a more detailed daily pacing guide, in my Marketplace Economics packet. Click here to see more!


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