Project Based Learning (PBL) and 21st Century Skills? Check! Value Beyond School (VBS)? Check! With a middle school goal to incorporate PBL and VBS throughout the curriculum, sixth-grade teacher, Tammy Delaney, and 8th grade teacher, Becky Koenig, implemented a project that incorporates both goals through a joint effort to learn about national and local parks. While the subject matter is parks, students are gaining so much more, including important 21st Century Skills like collaboration, researching skills, teamwork and communication.
“Mrs. Koenig and I thought it would be fun to go across grade levels by partnering, so we brought together a 6th and an 8th grade language arts class. It is giving the 8th graders an opportunity to work with 6th graders to practice collaboration and communication skills, as well as some critical thinking about how we can really make a change in the world around us,” said Delaney.
After divvying out the different parks, small groups completed research about their park, and the teachers provided a little framework and a lesson about how to write business letters. Once completed, the letters were sent to the respective park. In response, students have received maps and other information, piquing the interest of the students, but the journey didn’t stop there. “Mrs. Delaney and I tried to build a PBL project where the students communicated with the outside world about parks, and we wanted to bring it home to our parks as well and brainstorm something that they can do to help our local parks,” said Koenig. To help accomplish this goal, guest speaker, Spencer Parks and Recreation Director, Delray Bredehoeft, spoke with the students.
“Mrs. Delaney and I are happy to bring you together today for a brainstorming session about what we can do for our local parks.” Koenig introduced Bredehoeft to the students and asked how many students participate in going to parks. “Our parks are a treasure here,” added Koenig.
Delaney went on to explain their vision to the kids saying, “We have been learning about national parks, and we want to listen today and figure out ways to help our local parks through some sort of improvement project or some idea that you come up with as a whole group to make our parks better in our community. We might also help the city with a project that they want completed.”
After Bredehoeft spoke with students about the park system, including aspects of budgeting and funding, different types of parks, how the parks are planned and located, and trails, he shared a map of the parks in Spencer and encouraged the students to visit them. Students then talked in their groups to generate questions. Briseyda, an 8th grader asked, “Why is it important to learn about parks?” Konna, a 6th grader, wanted to know how locations are picked to build parks.
After the brief question and answer period, Delaney told the students that they will go over their notes from the national parks and add additional notes from the presentation about the local parks. They will then be given voice and choice about what they want to do to contribute to the world around them. Ideas will be discussed in small groups, and then once there is a consensus with the entire group, the students will move forward with a project to be completed by the end of the year.