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 Project Based Learning

picture of grade 3 student holding worm

Students placed red worms in composting bags. The worms break down organic matter into nutrient-rich compost.

Grade 3 students get their hands dirty for science project

 

Third-graders at Watervliet Elementary School don’t seem to mind getting their hands a little dirty and most have conquered any fear of worms they may have had — all in the name of science.

The students are working in pairs or small teams to learn about composting, nature’s way of recycling biodegradable materials, as part of a larger unit designed to teach them about the science of soil.

The composting lesson is an example of project based learning (PBL), which is defined as a dynamic classroom approach where students actively explore real-world problems and challenges to acquire a deeper knowledge.

One of the reasons third-grade teachers opt for the project-based approach to learning is because of its power to engage students.

“Children are so much more engaged when they are interested in a project,” said Shari Foglia, grade 3 teacher, adding that many students brought materials to school from their homes to add to the compost bags. “This approach often takes students beyond the boundaries of the classroom and outside the daily classroom routine.”

picture of students ad teacher working with soil

As part of this scientific process, students write their observations about composting in journals.

Third-grade teacher Meaghan Castle agreed. “It’s hands-on rather than simply reading or doing worksheets. They are able to see a direct real-world connection, so even if we spend time reading one day in science class, the next day we are going outside, into the real world, digging up soil, observing the worms in action right then and there. It is a fun and effective way to learn.”

Grade 3 special education consultant teacher Molly McGrath said the students were more than excited to meet the ‘superheroes’ of the composting process. “They couldn’t wait for the worms to arrive!” she said.

Third-grade teacher Jennifer Hoefer added that composting and similar hands-on projects offer students a purpose for learning.

“They learn the basic principles of composting and why it is important. For example, it’s good for the environment because it helps reduce garbage in landfills,” she said. “Students learn how to recycle natural products that make soil healthier, which also helps the environment. It has a greater reach than just the classroom.”

Project based learning is interdisciplinary, meaning that it integrates different subject areas, such as reading, writing, math, science and technology.

“Because it is interdisciplinary, we touch upon multiple standards in each lesson,” Miss McGrath said. “Students practice critical thinking, analyzing, creativity, problem solving, research, collaboration, communication skills and more.”

picture of two students with cup of soil

Grade 3 teacher Jessica Diamond added that occasionally through the process students develop their own questions and explore different solutions. “Students’ inquiries can go in any direction based on their own experiences,” she said. “They may ask a question that we didn’t think of, which can lead in another direction from where we started.”

The grade 3 team said they try to utilize project-based learning as often as possible throughout the year. In addition to science, third grade classes have incorporated project-based learning in social studies for topics such as children’s rights and historical leaders, teachers explained.

“We held debates to determine the most influential historical leader,” Mrs. Foglia said. “Students had to choose one of five leaders, research the individual, create a presentation, and debate their classmates. Each class then had to vote for who they thought was the greatest leader. For this project, we were able to incorporate math because we used a bar graph to show the vote results.”

What happens to the compost?

Teachers said an essential piece of project-based learning is to have produced something at the end of the lesson.

Once the worms have done their job and created new soil, we put it back outside in the flower beds around the school,” said Mrs. Hoefer, “which helps show the students why compost is useful because now we have a product that we actually return to the environment.”

Learn more about the grade 3 team

Want to know what career grade 3 educators dreamed of pursuing when they were in third grade? To learn the answer to that and a few other questions, click on the staff member’s name to reveal a short Q&A.


picture of grade 3 teachers

Pictured left to right: Shari Foglia, Molly McGrath, Jessica Diamond, Meaghan Castle, Samantha
Spano
and Jennifer Hoefer are the third grade team.

Meaghan Castle

bullet graphicPlain or peanut M&M’s? Peanut

bullet graphicWhat is your favorite thing about being a teacher? Working with the students and watching their growth.

bullet graphicFavorite Disney character? Simba from the Lion King.

bullet graphicHave any pets? A dog named Buddy.

bullet graphicFavorite color? Purple

bullet graphicWhen you were in third grade, what did you dream of being when you grew up? A teacher!

 

Jessica Desmond

bullet graphicPlain or peanut M&M’s? Peanut, the more the better.

bullet graphicWhat is your favorite thing about being a teacher? Making a difference in the students lives.

bullet graphicFavorite Disney character? Aladdin

bullet graphicHave any pets? A dog named Dinosaur.

bullet graphicFavorite color? Green

bullet graphicWhen you were in third grade, what did you dream of being when you grew up? A soccer player.

 

Shari Foglia

bullet graphicPlain or peanut M&M’s? Peanut more protein!

bullet graphicWhat is your favorite thing about being a teacher? We never have a day that is the same.

bullet graphicFavorite Disney character? Belle from Beauty and the Beast.

bullet graphicHave any pets? No pets.

bullet graphicFavorite color? Green

bullet graphicWhen you were in third grade, what did you dream of being when you grew up? A teacher!

 

Jennifer Hoefer

bullet graphicPlain or peanut M&M’s? Plain! My daughter has a peanut allergy.

bullet graphicWhat is your favorite thing about being a teacher? My favorite thing about being a teacher is proving to students that they know more than they think!

bullet graphicFavorite Disney character? Snow White; we kind of look alike.

bullet graphicHave any pets? My girls have a pet fish, Anna.

bullet graphicFavorite color? Blue

bullet graphicWhen you were in third grade, what did you dream of being when you grew up? I wanted to be a scientist when I grew up!

 

Molly McGrath

bullet graphicPlain or peanut M&M’s? Peanut

bullet graphicWhat is your favorite thing about being a teacher? My favorite thing about being a teacher is helping students learn how to read!

bullet graphicFavorite Disney character? The Little Mermaid

bullet graphicHave any pets? I do not have any pets.

bullet graphicFavorite color? Yellow

bullet graphicWhen you were in third grade, what did you dream of being when you grew up? I always dreamed of being a teacher! I loved to play school with my siblings and neighborhood friends.

 

Samantha Spano

bullet graphicPlain or peanut M&M’s? Plain

bullet graphicWhat is your favorite thing about being a teacher? Watching students achieve success.

bullet graphicFavorite Disney character? I don’t have a favorite, I just love all of the Disney Princesses!

bullet graphicHave any pets? No pets

bullet graphicFavorite color? Purple

bullet graphicWhen you were in third grade, what did you dream of being when you grew up? A teacher!