On Display: A Teacher Candidate's Perspective on PBL

Happy Friday blog followers!

To those of you who are either writing, editing, or reading through report cards, we especially appreciate you checking in with us at this very busy time of the school year. 

Today's "On Display" post features the perspective of one of our Teacher Candidates (Anne-Marie Landolfi) on Project-Based Learning (PBL).  Julie Ham and I love hosting students in our classroom from various university and college programs.  Mentoring Teacher Candidates and Early Childhood Educator Students has proven to be a wonderful learning experience for everyone involved, us included.  When we teach our students about the Full-Day Early Learning-Kindergarten program, environment as third educator, play-based learning, PBL, inquiry-based learning (to name a few concepts we touch upon) we improve our own understanding and skills.

I feel fortunate that Anne-Marie agreed to share her experience with all of you and am delighted to feature her as a guest blogger today.  In my belief, it's important that we hear all the voices that influence early childhood.  We have something to learn from everyone in education, whether they are learning to become educators or are more seasoned. 

Here is Anne-Marie's lens on PBL:

Hi everyone,

My name is Anne-Marie Landolfi and I am a first year student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) Master of Teaching program at University of Toronto. Firstly, I wanted take the time to thank Joanne Babalis for this amazing opportunity to contribute to her blog, and for an extremely rewarding first classroom teaching experience. I will carry the experiences and the knowledge that I gained in her classroom with me throughout my teaching career. I cannot thank Joanne enough for all the resources she provided me with and for everything she taught me in the four weeks I was working with her.

I learned a lot about teaching and learning during my four week block placement. With this being one of my first experiences teaching in a classroom setting, I took some time to observe the students and the environment in which they learn. I quickly came to notice that from the very first day of school, the students were so engaged in what they were doing and were asking questions about the things that filled their learning environment. During this time, Joanne also explained the foci of the classroom which include inquiry-based learning, project approach, play-based learning, environment as third teacher, documentation and math through problem solving.  Not knowing anything about inquiry-based learning or taking a project approach to learning, I was a little nervous about taking on this approach to teaching. However, I was also very curious as to what exactly “inquiry based learning” and “project approach” meant and what it entails. I began by observing students while they were engaged in various inquiries and projects, such as the “Pet Rabbit” inquiry the “Curious about Colours” inquiry, “The Dot Project” and the “Beautiful Stuff Project”. I immediately noticed that the students had a natural curiosity for the things that made up their environment and that by building on their interests’, and asking the right questions, we can encourage critical thinking and have meaningful discussions. Through my observations and experiences, I also saw how having meaningful discussions allows students to ask questions and express their wonders about something they are genuinely interested in or intrigued by.  By building on the students’ interests and wonders, we can integrate many subjects from the curriculum and extend the students learning.

Two weeks in to my practicum, Joanne asked me if I had felt comfortable enough to take on a project-based approach and begin my own project. Although I still had some questions about the approach, I was excited to have the opportunity and confident to try a different approach to teaching and learning. Working on the Winter Sports Projects with a group of students who were very interested in hockey as well as other winter sports played in Canada, was one of the most rewarding teaching experiences. An abundance of teaching and learning occurred in the two weeks I had to begin the project with the students.

Here is a look at some of the key learning moments that took place over the course of the two weeks:

R: “Why do you need the Zamboni before you play hockey or go skating?”

The student was perplexed by this because she believes that when the ice is really smooth it is harder to skate on;

R: “It is all flat and it’s really icy so they fall easier.”

While discussing this student’s wonder with the other students in the class, it became evident that there was an interest in arenas and ice itself. The next day, the students and I did some research on arenas as well as hockey equipment and discovered some very interesting things…

The students described what ice arenas look like, sound like and feel like and created a list of different pieces of hockey equipment players wear and use to play the game:

The following day, I brought hockey equipment into the classroom. While discussing the hockey equipment with the students, I integrated math and language into the lesson by asking the students to label the equipment and by asking how we could sort the equipment.

T: “By number of equipment. So there is two hockey skates, 2 shin pad, 2 elbow pads and only 1 stick and hockey pants and puck.”

T: “By how heavy the equipment is.”

R: “We can sort it by size!”

The next key learning moment in the Winter Sports Project was our Ice Rink Experiment!

 Rough Ice       Smooth Ice

We made one block of ice rough by putting marks in it with a knife. We kept the other block of ice very smooth. Most of the students predicted that, on the rough ice,  their Lego characters would not go very far.

Z: “I don’t think it will go far. It will go and then just stop.”

Most also predicted that on the smooth ice, their Lego characters would go too fast, slip and fall.

T: “I think it will go a little too fast and fall on the floor.”

The students slid their Lego characters across both the rough ice and the smooth ice. We used non-standard measuring devices, such as corks and macoroni, to measure how far the lego characters traveled…

and we used a standard measuring device, such as a ruler, to measure how far the Lego characters traveled.

Together, we discovered that the Lego characters travelled about the same distances on the rough and smooth ice.

Z:  “It (the Lego characters) moved around more on the smooth ice because it was more slippery but it still went far.”

Completing my placement in Joanne Babalis’ classroom, and having this opportunity to take on a project-based approach to learning and observing inquiry-based learning in action taught me that all students come into the classroom with an abundance of knowledge that they have gained from their life experiences in the natural environment. As early childhood educators, it is crucial that we allow children to bring their questions and wonders about the natural environment into the classroom and ask them meaningful questions in order to create key learning moments and extend the students' thinking and learning. 

Thank you to Anne-Marie Landolfi for making our students' and her own learning visible through this excellent example of project-based learning.  We wish her continued success in her studies and look forward to hearing more from her in the field!

Share your thoughts :

  1. Joanne,

    can you recommend a good resource for learning about the inquiry approach in Primary classrooms?
    Thank you,

    1. Hi Margaret,

      Thank you for your question!

      I would highly recommend the resources "Natural Curiosity" and "A Place for Wonder" as great starting points for promoting wonder and inquiry.