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Camelot teachers, staff, implement new learning techniques

Posted: Tuesday, Feb 23rd, 2010


These five students, from left, Alex Barrientos, Mohammad Bunaryoun, Brandon Rippert, Colton Kruse and Otto Stark are making a team presentation on money during colonial times as part of a project-based learning assignment at Camelot Intermediate School.


Editor's Note: This is the second of a twopart report on project-based learning at Camelot Intermediate School in Brookings.

What was life like during colonial times? What did the colonists eat? What kind of jobs did they have?

Those questions, posed by fifth-grade social science teachers Peggy Balsiger and Vickie Newman, are part of a new idea for a project-based learning (PBL) assignment.

In this project, their Camelot students' objective was to find out what life was really like for early American settlers in the period from 1492-1763 .

Topics the fifth-graders had to choose from included schools, clothing, money, transportation, games, careers and food.

Project-based learning is something new in Brookings schools it's a hot topic in education circles nationwide but it's the way the best teachers have always taught. Give the student a project in which to get fully involved, and as the student carries it to completion, developed are skills in math, reading, speech, spelling and composition. Above and beyond that, the project participants acquire a subject expertise in the topic they're researching whether it's how to build a bridge or become a blacksmith.

Classroom activities in a PBL program are more student-centered , and less teacher-in-front-of-a-group . The teacher becomes the guide, offering assistance and suggestions, tossing out provocative questions about the students' work.

But perhaps the most important thing about project-based learning, its supporters say, is that it teaches kids how to research and how to analyze. Instead of becoming better memorizers, they become better thinkers. They develop the skills that will be critical for success in the modern world. Technology plays role

In Brookings, too, technology has played a major role in the PBL activities, since the stu dents were required to use computers, special software applications and video cameras to achieve their goals.

Those who participated in the colonial life project at Camelot had a ball history was never more fun. Homework became interdisciplinary it included home eco nomics and math lessons for students who picked food as their topic they had to measure ingredients and prepare colonial delicacies to share with the class.

"With their presentations," Balsiger said, "students made candied orange peels, butter, apple cider, cornbread and pound cake."

Camelot Principal Dave Fiedler says that projectbased learning is usually reserved for middle and high schoolers, "but we're trying to be on the forefront doing it on the fourth- and fifth-grade level."

Fiedler says he feels strongly about keying in on students' motivation level in life as soon as possible. "We lose kids and their desire to do school-type things as early as second grade," the principal said.

"Our challenge is to make school fun and exciting ," he said. "And with our technology and these projects, we see this as an opportunity for us to maybe recruit some of those kids who don't like textbooks and the same old routine."

As noted, technology has been an integral part of project-based learning. Balsiger said her students were able to do a great amount of research on the computer. Taking work to heart

But she said they took it a step further, since all of the teams presenting had to have a visual aid or poster. She cited one example of how the team of students who picked colonial clothing as their topic dressed up in colonial hats and bonnets while making their PowerPoint presentation.

"They really took it to heart and took it seriously ," said Balsiger. "It was fun to see what they came up with."

Kim Kludt, Brookings School District's 21st century skills coach, is serving as a resource to teachers and staff, who are hoping to go above and beyond state learning standards with these new ideas.

She said she agreed with Fiedler about the importance of authentically using technology to drive learning.

As the mom of a fourth-grader , she said she saw firsthand how doing presentations was "serious business" for these kids.

"My son came home and said, 'Mom, I need to practice my presentation in front of you,' and he did it for me four times that weekend."

Kludt is working with 15 teachers in the Brookings district on 21st century learning and will be sharing her progress with project-based learning with 12 other schools who were part of a 21st Century Learning grant. Among the participating districts are Castlewood, Estelline, Deubrook and Elkton. 'People amazed'

"People are amazed when I tell them our fourthgraders are doing presentations on PowerPoint," she said.

Project-based learning works for science class, too.

Fifth-grade science teachers Lisa Weier and Robin Stahl have come up with an innovative way to help students study the parts of a flower and learn about photosynthesis with project-based learning. Their program starts with the students learning about flowers with standard textbooks , just as they would in any science class. Step two has them drawing and labeling flower parts in a journal, as they might in a lab session. But in their homework assignment, the fifth-graders must create three-dimensional models, which they will be tested on. And in the final step, the classes head out to McCrory Gardens and apply what they learn to real-life situations.

Creativity came into play as Weier said students made their 3D projects out of candy, clay, play dough, straws, pipe cleaners and tissue paper.

But she stressed that students weren't graded on the looks of the flower. "It needed to have all of the required parts and if the students could tell me if they knew what those parts did," she said. Project generates excitement

Weier said one thing she has noticed is not only do students learn what a monocot and a dicot is (plants with one or two seed leaves), they don't look at flowers the same due to the interaction and excitement this project generates.

"The students loved to compare their flower projects with their peers," she said. "It also gives those with higher creativity the ability to bring it out in a different way."

Stahl said she began to notice as the project wrapped up that students had a good idea of flowers , their parts, how they reproduce and their different varieties. "I could really tell when they went out to McCrory Gardens what they knew," she said. "Even students who I notice are struggling in school could at least point out the main points. It was amazing."

"They've been to McCrory Gardens before," said Stahl. "But just think about what they took away with this assignment, and look at what they will take back with them the next time they visit."

This is Weier's sixth year doing this project, and she said it was easily her favorite. But it was Stahl's first year making the three-dimensional flowers and taking the classes to McCrory. Weier says she won't tweak the project too much next year, but Stahl has some suggestions.

"I would like to get near-wilting flowers from a local florist and actually have some for the kids to dissect," she said. "It'd be great for them to see closely inside at what the flower parts actually look like." Already looking to improve

Balsiger said she also sees ways to improve her project next year, thanks to the evaluation form filled out by her students.

"Most of them wanted to do it again because they really liked the independent study," she said. "The biggest comment was that they wished they had more time for research.

"I thought they had ample time, and I thought they were getting bored, but I found out just the opposite."

Kludt said the projects like the ones Newman, Balsiger, Weier and Stahl are implementing are events that kids aren't going to forget. "The learning that is attached to it is emotionally charged, which is going to help them retain what they learned.

"Those are skills they are going to keep because there's a sense of pride attached to it."

Contact Vicki Schuster at vschuster@brookingsregister.com.











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