Student Engagement 'Sky High' for Bee Project

Student Engagement 'Sky High' for Save the Bees Project
Posted on 11/01/2019
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save the bees project collageDid you know that bees are attracted to caffeine and can be trained to sniff out bombs? Or that they are confused by noises coming from cell phones? 

These are just some of the facts fifth-graders at Independence Elementary School learned during their project based learning (PBL) assignment “Save the Bees.” During her unit on ecosystems, teacher Laura Brown thought it would a great opportunity to try PBL for the first time. “I did the training that Lakota offered in June,” she said. “I created this during that time and went all in!”

Teachers throughout Lakota have been challenged to try one of four personalized learning “plays” this year: Flipped Classrooms, Flexible Playlists, Station Rotation or Project Based Learning. Brown chose PBL because she saw the natural fit for her students with science. While her classes have always been hands-on, incorporating activities and choice into students’ learning, “this was much more open-ended and tied to a real world problem,” she explained. The problem: How can we, as ecologists, help convince the community to save the bee population?


Students were given free choice as to how they chose to present their information and solution. Working either by themselves or with a partner, students researched why the bee population is declining and possible solutions. “Without honey bees to pollinate our crops, the human race would be wiped out in four years,” cautioned Gabriel Blenman. “It’s really surprising for something so small, that’s in our everyday lives, (to) change our lives. It’s really fascinating,” he continued.


From Google slides to models to utilizing green screen technology, Brown was very impressed with her students’ dedication to the project. “They exceeded my expectations which tells me that choice does work.” In addition to choice, project based learning also requires students to use time management skills to stay on track. Brown gave the students two class periods per week to work on their projects, continuing with her regular class on the other three. Brown’s reminders of how many class work sessions remained helped keep them on schedule. Some students chose to work on their projects as homework or during lunch and recess, both of which were not a requirement.


While working on the project, Brown challenged her students to stretch themselves and their learning. For example, if they wanted to incorporate technology into their presentation, they were encouraged to try a new technique. She also required every student to complete a reflection sheet for their peers...and for her. Students had to write two positive comments and one critique for every presentation, a requirement that Brown believes helped them to ask thoughtful questions of their peers. “I think they were surprised when I said I truly want them to give me feedback. For me to continue to do PBL and to continue to grow, I need their feedback.”


Brown has seen growth in her students as a result of the Save the Bees project. Independence, time management and even technology skills have seen a boost during the assignment. She was also impressed by the level of commitment. “Their engagement was sky high - even during lunch and recess,” she laughed, noting that their interest didn’t wane during the length of the project, which spanned two months. “They rose to the occasion.”  


Blenman and his partner Zachary Lind enjoyed learning through PBL. Blenman explained it this way: “You try and search up one specific detail and in the end you come out with many more than you expected. You just grow so much.”


One of the objectives of personalized learning is for students to take ownership of their learning. Through this project based learning assignment, the fifth graders were empowered to make choices from start to finish. They chose which resources to use when doing research, they chose which type of project to create and how to present the information they learned. They also gained experience in presenting to a large group of people. Kate Shively and Kennedy Gwin chose to present their information on a poster. “We wanted to do something that explains with a diagram,” said Shively. “We also thought that a poster is a better way of explaining it because people can look off of it and ask questions.”  


There are also several groups who want to implement their ideas at Independence to help save the bees. Whether it’s a bee garden or a bee house remains to be seen, but administrators at the school are interested in hearing more from the students. Monica Iduma and Samantha Rivera are one of the groups. “In the spring, we are trying to plant a garden that will help attract bees and to help the population grow,” explained Ituma. The pair used a poster to diagram their garden and teach their classmates how the plants will help attract the bees. Rivera is hoping that the class will volunteer to help come spring.


“That’s something that’s real that they could possibly impact,” said Brown. “I think that if they see that happen, it will be even more impressive that ‘I did that.’”


Reflecting on this personalized learning play, Brown said she has experienced a lot of growth. “If you don’t grow (as a teacher), you’re stagnant and I don’t want to be stagnant.” Brown knows that students have choice in their everyday lives and believes that school needs to mimic that. “I need to grow with them in terms of choice so that they want to come to my classroom.” She admits that she holds high expectations for her students and knows that she must also hold herself to the same. “For me to continue to have those high expectations, I need to have them for myself, which (means) growth.”

Click here to learn more about project based learning in Brown’s class.