PBL – Endangered Species Reflections


I tweeted out a short post about the Project Based Learning modules on Atomic Learning sometime last week and I started doing one of them this week. There are two on the site – one for science (Endangered Species) and one for math (Million Dollar Classroom). They both look challenging for the students and will generate a lot of creativity and problem solving for them. I want to use this page as a type of journal to document what happens in class through the various stages of this project. I want to keep this as a way for others to gain some possible ideas in case they chose to do this and as a way for me to reflect on what I did this year, in order to make changes in the future.

I chose to do this project as a way to supplement the ecosystems unit we are working on in science. I noticed that the students had a lot of prior knowledge with ecosystems. One students even brought in her 3rd grade notebook and showed me the same vocabulary and concepts we were working on in class for 5th grade. At this point, I knew I needed to do something more with them to keep them interested and challenged.

Day 1 – March 17, 2017

I decided to introduce this on a Friday and give the students the weekend to think about what species they might want to do. We watched the first five videos in the Student Guide section of the module. We then watched the three videos in Section E. At this point, the students were excited to get to work and start doing. This was the first sign that this should be a successful project. Of course, as soon as the videos ended a hand went up and asked the question I knew was coming – Can we work with a partner on this?

This is addressed in the Group or Individual video in the Teacher Resource section of the module. I decided that I wanted the students to feel like the had the most choice as possible on this project. It is March and we have been working all year on responsibility, accountability, and academic expectations. I decided that they could work by themselves or they could work in a group of two or three. I created a Google Form for them to give me one or two names of someone they wanted as a partner. I embed the form below.

Along with this form, I also created a second form to get their opinion of the project at the start. I want to do a second one at the end and compare how they felt about it. It is embedded below.

I was able to get them into groups by the end of class. I did have three students who chose to work alone. The rest were placed in groups of two or three.

This was the last class of the day on a Friday afternoon. After this we packed up and cleaned the room to get ready for dismissal. As the students were doing the end of the day routine, their conversations were about arranging times to chat on Google Hangout about the project. Something that doesn’t happen with the most assignments I give them.

Day 2 and 3 – Monday and Tuesday – March 20 and 21

On Monday we watched the remainder of the videos in the Student Guide section to give them a long term view of the project. I also printed the graphic organizer provided in the module for them to begin their research. At the end of class I gave them another Google form to tell me what species they had chosen to do after a full class of research. I told the students that the species they put on the form was the species they would be doing. I did not want students to change their mind a couple days later and have to start all over again. The link to the form is below, as well as, links to the rubric I made. There is a rubric provided in the module, but it was only for 16 points. I wanted to add other aspects to it and give it a greater point value.

Final Decision Form


On Tuesday, the students continued their research and I also developed a calendar to give them an idea of a timeline for the project.

This project came at a rather strange time and might require better planning next year. We have 12 days left before spring break and also a three day field trip to the mountains, so the students are going to have quite a break in between finishing up the presentation and then actually presenting the project.

I know it is only the second day and the students are still new to it and with working in their groups, but I have seen some good collaboration and communication within the groups and even with the students who chose to work alone. I also notice that students who tend to lose focus and get off task are more attentive this time.

Probably the biggest challenge the students have had to face is in finding sources. One video in the module stresses finding reliable sources and says that Wikipedia should not be used at all. This was a major disappointment for some of my students. Some of them think that all the information they need for everything can be found in Wikipedia. I don’t mean to sound negative about this site, but I do want them to realize there are other sources of information out there. The video mentions the use of .gov, .org, and .edu as good ways to find reliable sites. I think this is a great part of the assignment because it forces them to really analyze the sties they are using and question the information presented. Some students have already found conflicting facts when comparing the .coms with the others listed above.

Day 4 and 5 – Wednesday and Thursday – March 22-23

Most of the students were done with the research on Wednesday, however, some still had some issues with finding sites that were not related to Wikipedia.  I also looked over some of the information they gathered on the graphic organizer and found some facts that didn’t seem the make sense. For example, Burrowing Olws can be found in Prairies and in the Tundra. When I asked to see the resource where they found this information, the students told me they wrote it down, but didn’t write down the site. The concept of citing a source in order to use it in a paper or presentation is still a difficult concept for many students. This is the third research project we have done this year and it is still an issue I am working on with them. Overall, this project more than the other two has really forced them to question the sites they use for their research.

Tomorrow they will watch the presentation videos again on Atomic Learning and start brainstorming ideas for their presentation. It would be nice to start presentations next week, so they don’t have to linger over the break. I am torn between the project dragging on for too long and them losing interest or doing the presentations too soon and not being their best work.

Day 6 – Monday – March 27th – The Real World

How many times have we heard about what it’s like in the real world, especially when we were kids growing up – from both parents and teachers. As teachers, how many times have we said it to students in our classroom. I spent a lot of time with this phrase this past weekend trying to figure out how to get students to think about connections to the real world. It suddenly occurred to me that I’ve been spending all this time trying to get them to see the real world from a teachers point of view, or even an adult point of view, that I did not consider seeing the real world from a student point of view.

I found the quote above and added it to this page because it got me thinking about the second stage of this project and the difficulties the students are having with it. In the quote, he mentions the connection to the real world. I am beginning to think that this “real world” concept can be rather subjective and limited depending on who is doing the project. When the students complete their research on their species, the next step is to come up with an idea on how to help save the species and remove it from the endangered species list. Following this, they then have to present the idea to a company or an organization that will help them implement their idea. This is where the students are struggling.

For most of them, they wanted to immediately make a presentation to show off their research. When I showed the presentation video to them again and told them to brainstorm ideas for saving their species, many of them came up with raising money in ways like candy sales or school movie nights. At first, I was very frustrated because this seemed rather limited and I expected bigger, more “real world” ideas. I struggled with this over the weekend and with ideas of how I can get them to think bigger and connect to the real world. They had done Genius Hour all last year and had done similar problem solving projects, but when I checked with the 4th grade teacher I was told that she had a similar issues with the ideas they had.

It then occurred to me that their idea of the real world and mine are completely different. To a 5th grade student, the real world is school and if you want something for your school or you want to do something to improve your school, you raise money. How do you raise money at a school? You have candy sales, spirit weeks, or movie nights. This is their world.  If we want to move them out of this into a bigger picture, we have to do what we always do – teach it and model it for them.

Once I tried to see it from their perspective, it was easier for me to present it from my perspective. I asked them to think about what a teacher would do if they wanted something for their classroom or wanted to fix something in their school. How would they go about it? This generated some bigger ideas, such as go to a business or a bank and ask for money. Being in the Charlotte area, the students immediately thought of going to Bank of America or Wells Fargo. They then thought of other companies like Duke Energy. We are now outside of the classroom/school, but they still are thinking locally with what they know. I then asked them if they knew of any celebrities that help teachers. One student mentioned the local radio station and another mentioned Ellen.

When Ellen was mentioned, some students responded with a moan thinking this was a ridiculous idea until I pulled up an article about Oprah Winfrey donating $1.5 to Ron Clark. My students are familiar with Ron Clark because we spend the first few weeks of school reading through his Essential 55 book to establish classroom norms and norms for the entire 5th grade. When we finish, we watch the movie as a grade level to give the students an idea of how he started and developed these 55 rules.

This finally opened the door to a connection for them that was outside of Charlotte and involved a celebrity and a large amount of money. It gave them the permission to think big.  I wanted them to brainstorm big ideas…ideas that seem absolutely ridiculous or unattainable.  Maybe they are, but I don’t want them to limit themselves, just yet. One student became obsessed with the Ellen idea and started to research ways to contact her. His list also included other ideas listed below:

  1. Contact the president of Spain and the government of Spain to help create laws to protect his animal.
  2. Contact business in Spain and Europe to help create commercials making people aware of this animal and its endangered status.

Now he was thinking in a much larger sense and connecting with the world on a much larger scale.

Tomorrow I hope to continue with this and get them to take their wildest ideas and start to narrow them down to a possible idea that they could present. I also want to spend some time with their presentation and show them how it is not just about their species and its habitat. The idea needs to drive the presentation. The idea should lead them to more research. For example, one group learned that poaching is the main reason their animal is endangered. They then began to research how countries around the world dealt with poachers and whether or not it was effective.

I would like to take credit for this lesson going the way it did, but I guess I owe it all to Ellen and Oprah.

Day 7 and 8 – Tuesday and Wednesday – March 28-29

It’s been a long week and it is only Wednesday. We’ve been doing mock EOG test, so we haven’t had much time for the project. I am also pretty worn out at 8:45 pm so this is going to be a rather short post.

We are still working on some ideas of how to save the species. Some students are getting upset because other overhear their conversations and feel like they are stealing their ideas. We discussed this a little bit to see if they thought this was a good or bad idea. We couldn’t really decide. In the end, I decided to set up a discussion post for the on Canvas so they could post their ideas and get feedback from others, or give feedback. I think the idea of collaboration in this type of project is better than competition.

I just finished reading through their discussion posts and the ideas are getting better. One issue that is coming up now is how much time do they have to spend on researching the expense for protective fences, GPS monitors, cameras, patrol rangers, etc.  If you are going to ask a business for money, it is a good idea to have a figure for them. Also, some of the ideas might involve more than just a business. With ideas like establishing a protected area, this might involve the local or national government to help establish these laws.

We will work on some of this tomorrow (Thursday – March 30th) and then will not return to it until next Thursday.  Not sure if this break will be good or bad for them, but it’s the way the schedule is this year.

Days 9 -10 – Monday and Tuesday (April 17-18)

We came back from spring break on Monday and had a three day field trip the week before, so it has been a full two weeks since we last worked on this project. We did some review by watching some of the movies in the Student Resources section on Atomic Learning.

The students are now planning their presentations and this is actually helping them to formulate their ideas and narrow them down. I thought this should have be done before, but I now realize it might help them to make the idea and presentation process be done at the same time.

I wanted to get an idea of what they were doing and what they were using for their presentations, so I created a form for them to fill out with some basic information about their project.

We are also about a week behind the original schedule. I was hoping to have them starting presentations at this point, but we had to move it to next week. Hopefully, we can get started by next Wednesday or Thursday.

Days 11 – 13 (April 24, 25, and 28)

As we get closer to EOGs it is getting harder to do this on a regular basis. The need for science review is taking priority over this project. However, we are still making time for it.

We are now at the stage where the students are finalizing their presentations. I hope in the next few days to have them spend a day or two practicing their speeches and what is going to be said along with the visual presentation.

Some Thoughts about the Presentations

The biggest issue I have seen with the students using apps like Google Slides is that they still struggle with how the slides should be organized and how much information (text, images, charts, etc.) should go on each slide.  Text is the biggest problem.  Many of them are writing two, sometimes three paragraphs on one slide. I am trying to stress to them that they should be using mostly bullet points with one word or short phrases on each slide. The rest of the information will be spoken to the audience. They have done slide presentations in 4th grade and also in my class, as well. They have seen my slide presentations in class. I think one thing I need to work on next year is to not just go through the content that is in a slide presentation, but also draw their attention to how the slides are organized.

Guest Businesses

To be honest, I have not had much time to contact real business to come and see this and give their opinion on whether they would or would not give money to a specific endangered species project. I am in contact with some parents who work in businesses that do this sort of thing and we are trying to schedule times for them to come and listen to the students. I also have a parent coming in who has a lot of experience with grant writing for the Girl Scouts. She is going to look over their presentations and give them some tips on how to improve them.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s