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Using Project-Based Learning to Give Third Graders Real-World Experiences

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By Dean Wright, 3rd grade learning facilitator, CSA Lincoln

When Columbus Farmer’s Market shoppers approach Columbus Signature Academy’s booth, they’re greeted by a group of third-graders eager to sell their jewelry, scarves, survival bracelets, rag dolls, and stress balls. What shoppers don’t see are the months of learning, work, and effort that went into setting up that booth. They also don’t notice the important role that project-based learning (PBL) played in making that day happen.

Being situated in a community known for its beautiful architecture and rich agriculture—and teaching at a magnet school centered around PBL—lets me come up with some pretty creative ways to give students voice and choice both in and out of the classroom. So what started as a social studies project has since morphed into a lesson that incorporates math, art, economics, and entrepreneurism.

With the goal of blending social studies with these different subject areas, we get students thinking about community activities, locally grown products, and the trading system for these goods. And while my young students are just starting to think about their own college and career aspirations, this real-world experience serves as a foundation for both.

Using itslearning as a staging area, I can equip students with the tools they need to successfully create their projects. I keep all videos, materials, expectations, and instructions in the learning management system (LMS), which students access while in class and on their own time. They use the platform to collaborate with one another and use their critical thinking skills to make decisions about their end products.

In anticipation of their big day at Columbus Farmer’s Market, students design their prototypes and upload those designs to a dedicated folder in itslearning. That folder also houses any interactive elements that students use to get a deeper understanding of specific subjects. Then, while working independently or in groups, students take ownership of their learning by referring back to specific videos and information on an as-needed basis.

From the facilitator’s perspective, having historical content at my fingertips in our LMS saves me from having to reinvent the wheel every year. I just go in and update the pages, make sure all of the content is still active, tweak things a bit, and even embed external sources like Google forums right into itslearning.

Even more importantly, I can condense specific resources down to the most relevant options instead of asking pupils to search for them. Let’s say I want them to watch a YouTube video that relates to their farmer’s market projects. I just embed that video into itslearning and I don’t have to worry about the 5,000 other links that would pop up if they did a general YouTube search.

Our annual farmer’s market project is just one good example of how we are leveraging itslearning to support PBL. Our LMS allows us to focus on what’s most important:  Putting the most relevant tools and resources in front of students, and then giving them a voice and choice in their own learning. As facilitators, we can then help our pupils navigate the learning process in a cleaner, safer, and more effective manner.

Dean Wright is a 3rd grade learning facilitator at Columbus Signature Academy in Columbus, Ind.