Spotlight: Elementary Students (i)Hop Into Project-Based Learning

Jul 12, 2016 | PBL

Spotlight: Elementary Students (I)Hop Into Project-Based Learning

by Drew Perkins, Director of ThoughtStretchers Education

Continuing in our series of showcasing student (and teacher) work in project-based learning we return to Marshall Co., Kentucky to share more from district leader Abby Griffy. This is a first-year project by 3rd grade teachers Amanda Mott and Katee Adam with the Driving Question: How might we create a new pancake recipe for IHOP’s menu?

As a facilitator, it’s always great to see the student work and the results of the workshop and reflect on the process you helped them through. Although I don’t recall their original idea I do remember asking questions during our coaching/work time that led them to this more authentic project with an audience outside of their classroom. After some discussion about possibilities, they landed on having their students create a new pancake for their local IHOP restaurant.

The Driving Question for this project is simple and clear about the product the students are creating and for whom. As the edited video shows (full version here) the students visited the restaurant where they were asked by the manager for these new creations. While this might seem like a small detail it adds an element of authenticity, one of our 5 Levers of PBL Quality, where the students have a more compelling challenge outside of just doing this for their teacher.

Reflecting on this project for a second run I might suggest adding a qualitative piece to the DQ that relates to the purpose. Perhaps something like: How can we create a profitable new pancake item for our local IHOP? The addition of “profitable” dictates that students will have to also consider their audience/market and how to better ensure their pancake will actually sell. Another wrinkle might be to add a component where their pancake creation reflects the character of their region’s agricultural roots to help lead their learning to local science and social studies thinking. These tweaks may add unnecessary time and complexity to the project but are worth considering as possibilities.

I also like, as the video shows, the inclusion of outside experts like their high school culinary students (and of course IHOP GM, Mr. Mario) as they think and learn about the things they need to know to meet this challenge. While this might seem like a purely fun project the intent was to teach and learn about fractions and writing content standards in addition to presentation/communication skills. As the process unfolded over 8 days the students engaged in:

  • journal writing
  • collaborative group planning with specified roles
  • question storming using the Question Formulation Technique
  • research online and in cookbooks
  • revision of recipes (using fractions) based on new science learning
  • peer critique using a Gallery Walk
  • presentations and creation of an ad campaign for their pancake

Did things go perfectly? Of course not and they almost never do but these students engaging in more purposeful and authentic challenges and using rich inquiry to do so is an amazing step forward for almost any classroom. As these teachers and students progress along their PBL spectrum they’ll get better at planning and implementing and the learning will go even deeper.


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