Monthly Archives: February 2013

Building a PBL Magazine

My students have spent the last couple of weeks working on a PBL project. The Driving Question was “How can we create a digital magazine for the 4th grade to help them understand the accomplishments of the Islamic Empires?” The 4th grade was going to be our audience. We had finished a fairly textbook-driven study of the first part of the Muslim Empires, the Umayyads, practicing identifying significant information in the text and organizing facts. I wanted to open up the next part of the study and make it more student-driven. They read a chapter that had an overview of the Abbasid accomplishments, from art to medicine to mathematics, and each one chose the topic that interested her the most.

I set up a Project in NoodleTools, which the students had used before. I love how it is organized to allow them to first have a Direct Quotation. In a day of Cut and Paste, it is crazy to think that they aren’t going to do use that to gather information. NoodleTools is set up for that, and then with the necessary Paraphrase, directing under the Direct Quotation. The organization of the page at least encourages students to recognize that when they cut and paste, it is different than when they put it into their own words.

The library provided a cart of books, and I put together a collection of websites. I gave them a day to research, and then I reviewed their notecards, leaving comments for them. The most common mistake was having too much information on a card. They want to cut and paste a paragraph and struggle to limit themselves to only 1-2 facts per card. That really means no more than a sentence, sometimes less than a complete sentence. If they did this, however, it was much easier to reorganize what they found into their own words and ideas.

I went to the Lower School library and got a collection of books and magazines that were appropriate for 4th graders. For the next class, I spread them out on the desks, each pair of students having one. I gave them index cards and had them record what they noticed about the book or magazine. How was it set up? What was interesting or different about it? How did it capture and hold the reader’s interest? I gave them 3 minutes and then had them stand up and rotate to the next set of desks.

“Can’t we just pass the books?”


“But why not? I’m tired. I didn’t get to sleep until late last night.”

“And there is the answer to why you are getting up and moving. Time to get the blood flowing to that brain of yours.”

As they rotated around, they get more and more excited about what they were finding.

“Look at this cool font!”

“There are amazing colors on this page! Can we use colors like these?”

“This one has an ‘About the Author’ page. I want to have one of those!”

After they had had a chance to look at 5-6 of the books and magazines, we made a list on the board of what they had found. The process of looking at actual books for 4th graders made the project come alive in a new way. They saw that published work looked like, and they want to make their own. So it was time to create.

After gathering 20-30 facts, they built their magazine in Pages, combining text with images. They played around with fonts and colors, adding pages of puzzles and vocabulary words. They used what they had learned to effectively create something that was 4th grade friendly. They searched for images that  would enhance what they had written. It was challenging for some of them to find appropriate ones that matched the time period, but they diligently searched. When they found one they liked, they used to shrink the URLs. They then put the shrunken URL under each image to identify where they had found them. Then, with the help of our fabulous Educational Technologist, Kim Sivick, the Pages were uploaded to ISSUU to become magazines. (The actual page is not available to the public, because the students are in middle school, and it is through the school’s account.)

The results were amazing! If you haven’t tried it before, you should! The pages turn and create a wonderful sense of having made a real magazine. The students were really proud of how their hard work had turned into something that looked so impressive. While they liked the research pages, their favorites were their classmates, “About the Author” pages! Ah, middle school!

I’ve Missed This!

It has been a crazy year so far with lots of new things in my life: new work at school, new family member, new exercise routines. There have been all sorts of new balls to keep flying successfully in the air. Without realizing it at first, I let my writing slide to the side. I didn’t keep it as a priority, letting other jobs work their way to the forefront. There was a new meeting to add to the schedule or a baby to cuddle or a yoga class to attend. Each was immediate and of clear importance. None of the new activities were frivolous or insignificant, and they gradually took over my writing space.

What I have come to realize, however, is that they took over more than my writing. Without the requirement that I had put on myself to write on a regular basis, I slowly lost the intensity of my vision on my practice. When I knew that I had to write at least once a week, I looked at my teaching and my time in school in a different way. I was reflective every day, seeking for the  moments when I was learning, when I saw my students and my practice in new ways. Every day was a time for growth, a time to become better at what I was doing. As I let other jobs take the place of writing here, I slowly lost that focus on my practice. I became less reflective, because I simply didn’t need to be. I did my job each day and let it go, quickly moving on to whatever was the next responsibility.

There will always be more tasks and activities in my life than I can easily do in a day or a week. There will always be more people with whom to interact and for whom to care. I have a rich and full life that fills all of the spaces that are there to be filled, and when I let it, can squeeze out the moments that I need for myself and for my practice. But I need this! I need to stop, claim time for myself, for my own growth and learning. I need to think about who I am as a person and as an educator. I have chosen to spend my life in a place of learning, and if I don’t make the time to learn and grow myself, then I will never be the educator that I want to be.

Learning takes time and space. It takes slowly down to look and to listen. It takes time to identify what went well and what needs changing. None of that, for me anyway, can happen if I don’t slow down, if I don’t require myself to make the time to write. Writing forces me to look and take ownership. I know that I see my students and myself as a teacher better when I am writing, because I stay present in the moment in a deeper way. I take more time to reflect on what has happened. I change my practice and begin to grow into a new person, a new teacher. I don’t expect tomorrow to look like today, because I am going to learn.

So it is back to blogging for me! My apologies to those who follow this blog for the silence. I have learned a lot from it. Of most importance, that I need to avoid it in the future!