PBL · STEM

what a zoo!

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One of the things I love most about Project Based Learning is that a project allows you to address learning objectives in all curricular areas in a meaningful and engaging way – at the same time, rather than in the standard block schedule we are generally asked to adhere to on a typical day. I believe that when we allow the individual school subjects to blend together, we provide opportunities to help students make connections naturally, and they begin to think of their learning in a different way.

My students recently wrapped up a project that we presented as a part of our school’s spring STEaM Expo. For the project we asked the question, “How can we, as junior zoologists, create a model zoo that shares the unique needs of animals?” Within the project, we addressed standards in language, mathematics and science while focusing on critical thinking and collaboration.

ELA Connection: Students were put into groups of three and assigned to a region of the world based on the animals they were interested in learning more about. To help them focus their research, I asked that they find a book in the library about the animal if possible. We used Discovery Education for videos and text resources as well as a few specific websites. Find them here on the blog I use for my classroom. Together, we decided what information should be collected and I created research booklets for them to collect the facts they gathered.

The research helped students to make thoughtful decisions about what the animal’s enclosure should include and how big it should be. They also selected specific facts to include on a placard about the animal, like what you would find in front of a zoo exhibit.

Mathematics Connection: During the project, we learned about area and perimeter so that students could apply that knowledge to the design of their enclosure. Their task was to make sure that they provided enough space for the animal in its zoo enclosure and that the enclosure would fit in with the others in a given section of the zoo. They also practiced accurate measurement, ensuring that the base and sides of each animal enclosure fit together correctly.

Arts Connection: Our very talented art teacher helped students create small clay models of their animals to could be included in the enclosures.

The students used a variety of craft and natural materials to help make their enclosure look as realistic as possible. They considered whether the animal needed places to hide, climb, or dig and designed the space accordingly.

The project was a huge success and the students really enjoyed it. On the night of our Expo, they proudly toured their families around the classroom zoo and spoke intelligently about all of the things they learned throughout the project.

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