Change can be hard, but Juanita has embraced it with open arms by bringing Project- Based Learning to her 1st- grade students. Along with her 1st- grade partner teacher and school community, she has facilitated engaging projects like Food Transformers with a focus on matter and learning about exotic foods and designing a new Olympic sport to teach forces and motion. Here's her perspective on the benefits of PBL.
When I first heard about the words Project Based Learning (PBL), four years ago during a conference at the school where I am currently working as a self-contained teacher for preschool, my mind was blank. I wasn´t sure what those words could mean and even more, what I should expect not only from the conference but also from this new teaching perspective.
As the conference developed, I started to think about this amazing methodology as a new and enriching tool for building knowledge, but also as a useful and endless learning process in which students are essential elements for constructing their experiences and making contributions to the school environment and their community.
In addition, I became aware of the imminent necessity as a teacher and a guide, to be open- minded. I decided to make changes not only in the teaching and learning environment but also in myself as a person. Having the chance to make a valuable switch in your mind, in your practice, in the way you conceive, feel, and see the art of teaching, that is what PBL has offered me.
Working with PBL has allowed me to explore new dynamics. It has challenged me both professionally and personally, opened up undiscovered talents and ideas, helped me to be more flexible and creative in my planning, and in a way, it has invited me to redefine my practice every day.
Food Transformers- Children had to show how they could transform food and using the concepts of matter taught in the science curriculum. They were responsible for writing and creating their own recipes with at least one exotic ingredient using sequencing words and academic vocabulary.
Sky Walkers- Another project that I did last June was about objects in the sky: the stars, moon, and sun. Students had to write and create descriptive brochures selling interesting trips for tourists to the different objects in the sky. Through this project, kids also learnt about the first trip to the Moon in 1969, names of the astronauts, the phases of the moon, the name of constellations, the northern lights, and vocabulary about space. They even created parts of their own spacesuits by covering objects like coca cola bottles in foil!
Working with PBL has given me the opportunity to do three things.
1. Evolve as a teacher. I think that working on PBL at school has given me the chance to keep learning, growing and changing. I continue reflecting upon the way I evaluate and improve my daily practice and my projects with these three simple questions: What would I like to start doing? What would I like to stop doing? What would I like to continue doing?
2. Learn more from my students. PBL allows me to learn from their uniqueness, individuality, strengths, weaknesses, talents, imagination, and difficulties and abilities in learning English as a second language. They can demonstrate creativity not only for elaborating fabulous artistic pieces, classwork or homework, but also for sharing ideas about a project, working together, and finding solutions to a driving question through research.
3. Reassure my belief in struggling hard for every child. I personally and strongly believe that no one should be left behind. Every kid can learn no matter their difficulties or differences, and we as teachers need to prioritize the way we can establish a non threatening atmosphere in the classroom in order to lead individuals to feel motivated, create, develop a curiosity for learning, discover, share, work together, think critically, and more importantly, to communicate their ideas while working on a project. In addition, I consider that knowledge, activities, and the way you teach has to touch learners’ hearts first. It has to encourage students to feel self-confident, positive about learning, and able to construct meaningful and unforgettable content.
I could only say that at this moment I would love to have more student voice, more collaboration among students, and more autonomous, independent and critical thinkers able to find their own path instead of mine. In short, I will continue to encourage my students to keep expressing what they have to say, in English or Spanish, and not what I want to hear from them, to keep working hard, to continue having wonderful project presentations, and to enjoy teaching and learning as a collaborative and two- way street. I won´t give up because surrender is not a choice neither for me nor my students.
By: Juanita Zamudio Lemos
Juanita was born in Bogotá, Colombia and has been teaching for almost 18 years. For the past 13 years, she has worked at Gimnasio Los Caobos School, a private bilingual coed school near Bogota.
She loves languages and speaks Spanish and English fluently and understands French and Portuguese too. When she's not teaching, you can find her traveling, creating art, dancing, playing tennis, learning new things, writing, and enjoying time with her family and friends.