The Playground Problem PBL

This Project Based Learning unit was developed by Kara Damico and myself. We participated in a year long professional development on Project Based Learning including business immersions called Summer STEM. This plan was developed based on our learning experiences during training and time at Plexus and The Frontier Building

Goals and Standards (21st century skills)

Social Studies

  • Explain ways people change the environment.

Math

  • Organize, represent, and interpret data with up to three categories; ask and answer questions about the total number of data points, how many in each category, and how many more or less are in one category than in another.
  • Understand that the 2 digits of a 2 digit number represent amounts of tens and ones.

ELA

  • Write opinion pieces in which they introduce the topic they are writing about, state an opinion, supply a reason for the opinion and provide some sense of closure.

4 Cs

  • Critical Thinking/Problem Solving: Students design structures to address the problem statements after reviewing the data collected.
  • Creativity: Student designs should have unique features that are not already represented in your recess spaces. These designs may draw on creative efforts they find in their research.
  • Collaboration: Students work together to share ideas and receive feedback from peers throughout this project. Students may choose to work independently, in partners, or in small groups depending on the similarity of ideas to design and build their structures. Classes collaborate with business experts when available.
  • Communication: Students work together to share ideas and receive feedback from peers throughout this project. Students will give a 30 second pitch explaining their structures to PTA members, playground safety inspectors, facility planner, or other community members with a connection to playground construction.

Hook

We began by having students draw their dream playground without any constraints. To get kids thinking out of the box, we played a slideshow of photos of some unique playground structures from around the United States.

After drawing, students did a gallery walk to see their friends’ ideas. We then created a chart to list similar ideas and unique ideas. We collected ideas on a Padlet.

Student process

After the hook, we went to observe our playground space and completed a padlet to list things we liked and didn’t like about our current recess spaces. We were able to decide upon 3 main recess spaces – hard top, playground, field. Students reflected on our spaces by listing likes and dislikes of our current set up and structures. We collected these on a Padlet.

We then needed data to see which areas of the playground were the most popular. We gave a bag of pompoms to every teacher in the school and set up big jars by the recess doors. Each jar was labeled with a recess area. Students placed their pompom in the jar for their favorite recess space. Students then analyzed the data from the jars. We discovered that the most popular spaces were the playground structures.

In order for students to find the problem, we interviewed our assistant principal and receptionist (who doubles as our nurse) about problems that occur during recess. They reported that we have frequent injuries and fighting incidents. Students were able to think about our popular spaces survey and connect that the overcrowding of the playground structures likely causes both injuries and incidents.

Students were then challenged to think about the ideal structures they drew and the recess problems we identified and create a solution. Students designed structures to add to our recess spaces such as zip lines, obstacle courses, sports fields, talk-it-out structures for problem solving, and more. Students then used makerspace materials to build prototypes of the structures they designed. Students collected feedback from each other and made improvements to their structures. Students researched materials they could use to build their structures on the Home Depot or Lowe’s websites. They used tens and ones to figure out an estimated cost. Students then wrote a pitch for their structure including it’s purpose and safety features. We used this planning sheet:

We invited administration, PTA, a playground planner, and a playground safety inspector to our final event. Students presented their structures to the visitors and collected feedback. We were not able to acually select a structure to build (but that would have been really cool).

Mini lessons and how I knew students needed them

  • Reading a bar graph for most and least.
  • Prototyping and using simple materials.
  • Giving feedback – In my class we use glows for positives and grows for improvements. We needed to talk about specific feedback and always giving a postitive first.
  • Using feedback – After students collected feedback from friends, we talked about how to decided if it was right to make changes to structures based on the feedback given.
  • Drawing ten sticks and ones to represent the cost of materials and counting it all up.
  • Writing a convincing pitch.

Mini lessons I had in my back pocket but didn’t need

  • Collaboration lessons and conversations – these are always great to have in your back pocket. We do a lot of collaborative activities in my classroom so my students didn’t need any of these this time.

Classroom Arcade PBL – all work, more play!

Caine’s Arcade is a Project Based Learning (PBL) unit in which students design and create an arcade game out of reusable materials such as cardboard while thinking about the forces and motion needed to make the game work. This is the first PBL my team planned and implemented this school year. One of my teammates found resources on Teachers Pay Teachers. We used some of the ideas she found and made some of our own. This being our first PBL, we were happy to have a guide as we worked and planned. I will admit that this is much more of a columnating project than a true PBL.

Goals and Standards

  • Understand how forces (pushes or pulls) affect the motion of an object. (In North Carolina this is an  Essential Standard for first grade. In the NGSS this is a standard in kindergarten.)
    • Explain the importance of a push or pull to changing the motion of an object.
    • Explain how some forces (pushes or pulls) can be used to make things move without touching them, such as magnets.
    • Predict the effect of a given force on the motion of an object, including balanced forces.
  • Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some closure. (ELA1.W2)
  • Collaborate with others to plan and build the arcade game and think interdependently toward a common goal.
  • Think creatively to use reusable materials to construct the arcade game.

Hook

We actually used 2 hooks for this PBL. First, we watched the Caine’s Arcade video online. The kids thought it was really cool! We launched this on a Friday and had an optional community outing that weekend. We went to the local arcade and had families meet us there. While students were playing arcade games, we asked them to sketch and label forces and motion they noticed in the games. We brought sketch papers with checklists of different forces and motion. The kids had spent Monday – Thursday that week completing some STEM challenges that would give them an anchor experience for the different types of force and motion. We knew they would need this in order to completely analyze the games.

Student process

    • STEM Challenges:
      • We provided students with a small bucket and some dowels. The challenge was to move the bucket without touching it. This challenge allowed us to define push and pull as a force.
      • We gave students a ball and a pumpkin and asked them to predict and test which would move faster when rolled. This challenge allowed us to define speed as a factor of force and motion. Students then made a video explaining what they did.
      • Movement activity- we had students move in a roll, spin, zigzag, and straight line. Then we gave them playdoh spheres and asked them to change the shape of the playdoh sphere to make it move in those different ways.
      • 3 Little Pigs STEM challenge – Students were asked to build a house the wolf couldn’t blow down. This allowed us to show kids how to build a structure that would stand even when there was force or movement against it.
    • Watch the Caine’s Arcade video and discuss it. We used both chalk talk and back to back/front to front protocols to respond to what we noticed. The chalk talk was focused on I see, I think I wonder statements. I asked comprehension questions, asked students to make connections to their life experiences, and then had them get creative and start planning for the back to back/front to front protocol.
    • We then met at a local arcade for some field research. Families came to the arcade ready to PLAY! We asked students to closely observe at least 3 games. The sketched and labeled the game and made note of the types of force and motion in the game. There were some really great academic conversations happening with parents and students about force and motion.
    • For students who didn’t come to the arcade, I took photos and video for them to view at school the next day. Students then worked with partners to compare Caine’s cardboard arcade from the video to the real arcade we visited.
    • Students spent a few days sketching their arcade games in small groups. I let my students choose their teammates. They worked in groups of 2-3 students. They worked together to decide what type of arcade game they wanted to build and then began sketching how it will look. Then they made a list of materials they thought they would need to create the game.
    • Prior to building, students shared their sketches with another group to collect feedback.
    • Before beginning this PBL, I sent a note to parents asking for reusable things from home. They sent in tape, bottle caps, cardboard boxes, egg cartons, and all kinds of other things. I looked at student’s sketches and sent another request for other materials like different types of balls, string, things we could use for prizes, tickets, and some other things. Students used these makerspace materials to build their arcade games.
    • It took a little over a week for them to completely build their games in 20-30 minute sessions. We had some extra time before game day and students were able to paint their arcade games to make them look nice. (That was a messy day!) While students worked, I observed and jumped in to help where needed. I was surprised at students ability to direct me to help with things they struggled with. I also looked for misunderstandings so that I could stop them to teach a minilesson or plan for a minilesson the next day prior to building.
  • The day before parents came in to play students games, groups wrote directions for how to play and designed a sign that would draw customers to their game.
  • On the day of play, families and other first grade classes came in to play our students games. We planned 2 different arcade days so that kids could play games in other classes. Customers walked around the arcade in our room and another room to play the games, win prizes, and have fun! I asked parents to talk to the students about the forces and motion in their games. I eavesdropped on these conversations to assess my students understanding. Customers read the directions and played the games. I closed 1 game at a time so students could play for a little while. It was a huge success!

Assessment

  • This PBL required a lot of observation for assessment. Next time, I need to plan ahead and have a way to take anecdotal notes so I have clearer evidence of skills and proficiencies.
  • I used their game directions as one of our writing samples in our all about writing unit. This was a fantastic real-world application of that standard!

Minilessons and how I knew students needed them

    • This PBL was front-loaded with a bunch of vocabulary building STEM challenges that cut out the need for a lot of content based minilessons. That is something I would like to change.
    • I taught a minilesson on collaboration in which we discussed how we can tell if a group is working together on the same goal or if they are just going with their own ideas. We had to do this a few times throughout the PBL. I knew I needed to cover this when I noticed groups that were working independently on the same game. One group had all members sketching their game rather than working together on one sketch. I used their pictures for one of the minilessons. We identified things in the sketch that were similar and different and gave suggestions for how they can make it into one sketch. For revisiting this skill, I used a Padlet of videos I’ve collected on collaboration. We watched the video and identified the ways the characters collaborated. I then asked groups to try that as they continued to build. This was pretty much the only minilesson I taught whole group.

https://padlet.com/embed/wxjheok9dr7o

  • It only took about 1 day of building before my claw machine groups realized they needed prizes or it would never work! The next day we had a class meeting to talk about what types of objects could go in the claw machine and how other games should have prizes or tickets for players. They cleared out my treasure box for their prizes.
  • In small groups, I noticed that I needed to revisit some of the vocabulary from the unit and revisit the types of forces and motion they were using. We tried the moving parts in their game with different force to see how the game worked and then I asked them to redefine the forces at work in their games.

Minilessons I had in my back pocket but didn’t need

  • The next time I use this PBL, I won’t do the STEM challenges at the beginning. Instead, I’ll use a video that quickly teaches the vocabulary students will need. Those STEM challenges will become the minilessons I can pull from to teach as groups or the class needs them.

What I’ll change next time

    • I’d like to change the fieldwork note sheet to not be so vocabulary heavy. Rather than students looking for specific examples of force and motion, I would like to have them describe how things are moving in the game. This sheet also needs to make it more clear to families that they are looking for games with actual moving parts and not computer games.
    • While allowing students to decide on their own arcade game to build, next time, we will have a group discussion so groups don’t build the same type of game. I had 2 claw machines and I think we could have had a better variety had we had a class meeting prior to sketching.
    • During the sketch share, I will use this feedback form for students to collect meaningful, focused feedback on their ideas:
  • Next time, I need to have a prepared list of skills and standards so as I’m observing and conferencing with groups I can take notes as I look for growth and understanding in each area.
  • Magnets – this is a part of the standard we didn’t even touch. We didn’t have access to magnets and therefore did use them in games or for minilessons. Next time, I will request parents send in some magnets we can use. I’ll need to develop some minilessons to teach how magnets can change the force and motion at work. Magnets could add a whole new level of gameplay!

This is probably my longest blog post ever! I would love your feedback! I hope this type of break down of one PBL is helpful for you. If I get some positive feedback, I’ll breakdown some of the other PBLs I’ve used or written in other blog posts!