Project-based learning is where learning is displayed through the creation of something. This quarter, we worked on a project that spanned the entire nine weeks. Often with project-based learning, the process is more important than the product. Also, it involves problems and difficulties that we must overcome.
We began this project by doing extensive research about life in the medieval times–the clothes they wore, the food they ate, the music they listened to, the differences in class, the different roles in society, the people made famous by history etc.
Then within their groups (ranging from one to three people), the children synthesized their research into a historical fiction script that followed the story map structure. They had to include math and science concepts, and they had to allude to the book that we read for the quarter. Overall, they had to also incorporate the theme of faithfulness spreading, our quarter’s theme.
With their script approved, they then set about the task of creating costumes and props that would look as similar to the medieval times as they were able to create on the low-classroom budget. I loved hearing the conversations of “Well the peasants were poor, and they did not have money for color, so we have to make their costumes dirty and bland looking. No red!” or “This character should wear red because it shows his strength.”
This year, I relinquished even more control by allowing the children to film and edit their own movies. We discussed movie making techniques and how to convey various emotions through cuts and music. While examining books, we discussed how authors convey mood through words and pictures. The children then applied this to movies by searching for the right music to set the mood of their production. Though it was challenging, they found the appropriate music to set the scene.
Several children told me about their struggles through this process; they told me about their failures. They saw me as I struggled trying to make the technology work and improvising when it did not (example: needing to put the music onto a google drive rather than being able to directly download it from the music site that we were using).
These fourth graders had to work together; they had to communicate their ideas. They had to creatively solve problems; they had to critically think about incorporating the historic content into their projects. The process lent itself to developing skills that these children will use beyond the classroom–skills for life (also known as 21st century skills as we prepare these students for jobs that do not yet exist).
However, the struggle and the lengthy process was completely worth it as today, they got to see their final products next to those of their peers. Yes, these children will remember their movies, but more importantly they will remember the process that led them to create that final product.
I hope that years from now my children are still applying the creative problem solving skills that they used for this project.