This year I have an awesome class of year 1 students, and as we have a school wide commitment to project-based learning, I decided to get straight into it in term 1 with a project all about Australian insects. The basic idea was that students had to learn as much as they could about Australian insects and pokemon and then use their knowledge to create an insect based pokemon of their own by drawing a cartoon of it and writing a blog post about it. I think the project went well, you can see the final blog posts here. I was going to write this as a post reflecting on 3 things that went well and 3 things that could be improved, but it ended up being quite long based on what went well, so here it is:
1. Kids (and some adults) like bugs.
To launch the project I bought a class terrarium as well as a tropical far-north Queensland Rainbow Stag Beetle to go in it. I passed it around the room and explained everything that we needed to do to look after it. I told the class what food it needed to eat, that we needed to spray water inside the terrarium every day and that, as the beetle was supposed to live in a rainforest, we needed to keep an eye on the humidity in the cage by checking the hydrometer regularly. We then put the bug back and went to play a game of Pokemon ‘ ‘ on the Nintendo Wii. We also tweeted out a poll to see what we should name the beetle, and he soon became known as Trevor the Beetle.
News of our class beetle quickly spread and pretty soon we had kids from random classes excitedly popping into our classroom unannounced with bugs they had found in their classrooms. They knew we were learning about bugs, so they thought they’d come and share their bugs with us! One day we had some visitors from year 2 come over with a daddy long legs spider they had found in their room. We thanked them and fed the spider to our pet praying mantis, Frances (but more about her later). Another day we had some kindy kids visit us with a rather sizeable bee that they had found buzzing around the classroom. Perhaps most exciting of all, however, was the visit we had from Mr. Nick, the school GA.
One day he rushed into the room very excited because he had found a praying mantis on one of the trees around the school. He showed it to all of the kids who were very interested to learn more about this strange looking insect. We decided to keep her in our terrarium along with Trevor. So we now have two bugs in a box named Trevor the Beetle and Frances the Mantis. We have managed to keep both of them alive for several months, and we love them. I also brought in some antlions, strange insects that, whilst in their larval stage, construct massive pits in which to trap ants and eat them with their huge jaws.
Now all bugs need to eat. In the case of our beetle, Trevor, it’s pretty easy, you just need to wait for him to climb out from the ground and then give him some banana. With antlions and mantids, however, you need to do some work. They eat other bugs, which means that you need to go and find them. I would occasionally head out at recess with a jar to capture ants for our antlions and bugs for our mantis. As you might expect, I had no trouble finding helpers to aid me in my quest! I could often be found in the playground being followed by a large group of kids enthusiastically yelling about the bugs they were finding. So yes, one of the awesome things about #ProjectPokemon was how excited everybody was getting about bugs!
2. Kids had voice and choice.
Kids had to choose their own favourite bug in order to create their own pokemon. This meant that at even in the early stages of the project we made the decision as a class to change the driving question. The original DQ was, ‘Which Australian insect would make the best pokemon?’ – we changed insect to minibeast because one of the students wanted to make a scorpion pokemon and we discussed how the scorpion wasn’t actually an insect but an arachnid. To allow students more voice and choice in the matter, and so that we could learn more about all types of little creatures, we decided to expand our line of inquiry by modifying the DQ.
Originally I had set up small groups of around 3 students to work as teams. As the project went on it became apparent that this wasn’t necessarily the best set up, so I got the students to group themselves, based largely on which minibeast they had chosen and if they demonstrated to me that they were going to be able to complete the project together. They did this by explaining to me the minibeast they had chosen, why it would make a good pokemon, and which two pokemon ‘powers’ it would have. They then had to write all of this down in their books as a draft blog post before using their XOs to practise drawing bug cartoons by accessing the tutorials on our class website.
In some cases, students decided that they would prefer to work alone, either because nobody else had chosen the same minibeast as them or because those who had were already partnered up. Not all projects need to be based around teamwork, and in this case it had become clear that this particular task was best approached either individually or in pairs. So yes, students very had voice and choice in the direction of the project, at the early stages by changing our line of inquiry based on their choice of minibeast, and at the later stages by choosing who (or not) they would be working with.
3. Kids were engaged and suitably challenged.
One of the things I really liked about this project was the fact that students would often come to class with minibeast/pokemon based work samples they had completed at home. Some of these included cartoons that they had practised by accessing our website from home, some included descriptions of insects and reflections on what we had been doing as part of the project, others had logged into their own personal Kidblog accounts and written draft posts on their parents’ tablets! I’ll post some of these work samples below, along with a lovely email I received from a parent, who wanted to tell me that they were happy with the project. I was so pleased to receive such a lovely email and to see one of my students applying what she had been doing in class in a different context. I think it’s very creative!
Some work done at home by a student and brought into school.
I just briefly wanted to say something also about the students being challenged. As with all classes, my students have a range of abilities. Some of my year 1 kids need assistance with writing short segments of writing, whereas some can quite readily write longer pieces without need of much assistance. Some could be extended by being asked give reasons for their answer in their writing, for example, ‘Why would this minibeast make the best pokemon?’, ‘What can it do?’ I think this task allowed for students to be challenged with their writing. For some this meant working largely independently (or together) and getting help and suggestions from me at some later point, for others it meant sitting with me and working on it until they were able to finish the rest on their own. Every student or group, however, was able to complete the project and publish their work online. Yay.
Below is an email, written to me by a parent, showing some work that her daughter had done at home and telling me that she was happy with the project. As I said, I was very happy to receive this email and I think the work is great! :-)
Hello Mr Hewes,
I just wanted to say big thankyou to you and really appreciate all your hard work. Your thoughts and concept in regards to the Pokemon project has definitely contributed a very positive outcome.
You will be very happy and feel very proud of your student and your self to see attached _ _ _ _ _ _’s drawing and her thoughts on it. I was amazed to see what she came up with during weekend.