Project-based learning (PBL) has always been a mainstay of Purpose Built Schools. But during a pandemic, the practice of PBL became more important than ever.
“When school buildings closed, parents were worried, teachers were frightened, and students had to experience school in entirely new ways,” says Diona Williams, PBL coordinator for Purpose Built Schools. “But our leadership team, teachers, and students persevered by engaging in what we’ve always done: culturally relevant and standards-based instruction. We simply continued with PBL!”
Even during virtual school, teachers challenged students to follow the PBL model: collaborate, communicate, critically think, and be creative. With engaging topics to explore, students tackled issues each quarter that were relevant to their daily experiences.
But one thing that was new? Doing PBL virtually.
“It was a challenge to think through how to accomplish these PBL modules virtually,” says Ms. Williams. “But like everything else this year, teachers and students rose to the occasion. I’m so proud of the creative ways everyone completed their projects.”
During the 2020-21 school year, PBL topics included:
THOMASVILLE HEIGHTS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
Topic: Phonemic Awareness and Phonics: The Building Blocks of Literacy.
Project: While at home, second grade THES students used cereal, markers, index cards, construction paper, and anything they could find to build words with certain spelling patterns.
Topic: Civic Understanding: What Rules Are and Why They Exist.
Project: The THES Kindergarten team put a new spin on social studies standards by teaching students about social distancing rules that were created to keep them safe.
Topic: The Pandemic’s Effects on Georgia
Project: THES third grade students studied how the pandemic impacted people, plants and animals in the five regions of Georgia.
Topic: Bias and False Narratives
Project: Fourth grade THES students tackled the complex subject of how bias creates false narratives about different groups of people. Students studied historical false narratives and present day false narratives. Students also examined media narratives about current day issues.
“The equity work teachers have been doing this year greatly influenced 4th grade’s last PBL project.”
– Mrs. Coleman, 4th Grade Math
SLATER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
Topic: Food Deserts: How Can We Fight Hunger in Our Own Community?
Project: Slater is situated in the middle of an urban food desert, so first graders learned about planting their own food. Personal and community gardens help to combat the negative impact of urban food deserts. Students became nutritionists and designed healthy plates for themselves and their families. Scholars organized their own First Grade Food Drive.
Topic: Media Bias and Misinformation
Project: The influence of social media has positive and negative outcomes in the experiences of others. Fifth grade scholars at Slater maximized the power of social media to create the Slater Federal Investigators (SFI) Instagram Page. This platform provided a space for scholars to critically think and dialogue about the validity of current events. Reflections included, but were not limited to, self-identity, politics, health care, community engagement, social justice, equity and race relations.
Project: Slater students put together business plans for how they would start their own businesses. One example was called Kid Chef All Day, an online cooking class for kids hosted by kids.
PRICE MIDDLE SCHOOL
Topic: Natural Disasters
Project: The frequency of natural disasters have been increasing all across the globe. Sixth graders at Price studied natural disasters, how they impact students, and how to prepare for them.
Project: Price 7th graders learned the ins and outs of budgeting through an engaging game. Scholars drew cards to determine their professions, income, expenses and even taxes. They crunched the numbers and made financial choices, including houses to buy or rent, how much to save or invest, and more.
“This PBL was near and dear to my heart because I witnessed my students light up with excitement when they were given the opportunity to authentically explore their career paths and interest in a deep and meaningful way. Not only did they write about it, but they explored what they had to do, but also how their choices impacted them economically, and were able to dialogue with people in their field of choice to gain a greater understanding. All of this while completely virtual! This was the highlight of my virtual teaching year!”
– Ms. Nu’man, 7th Grade ELA
Topic: Black Inventors and Innovators
Project: Price 7th graders explored the rich history of Black inventors who have shaped our world as we know it.
“I didn’t know so many people of color created so many things! Like, people of color created almost everything! I am proud to be a person of color because we are so creative. Why don’t people tell the truth about what we’ve really done to contribute to society?” – Student
CARVER STEAM ACADEMY
Topic: Journalism in the Time of Crisis
Project: Students explored the headlines and story angles of how the media covered the pandemic. As an exercise, scholars created their own stories, including “5 Ways to Boost Your Mood During This Pandemic” and “3 Great Reasons to Participate in Virtual Learning.”
Topic: Multimedia Games
Project: 12th grade students used the knowledge they gained in Algebra class to create multimedia games.