Project Based Learning – Natural Disasters – 2nd Grade Style

So what is all of this buzz about PBLs, and what exactly is a PBL?

Well, my definition of a PBL is an amazing “event” where your students form a question or questions to drive their learning.  Through this driving question, they are engaged in learning about a topic and create a fabulous project that serves a purpose and is shared with others.
According to the Buck Institute, Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working
for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex
question, problem, or challenge.
Why do my students and I LOVE PBLs?  
First of all, I can see the growth that is taking place every single day in their learning.
They are also able to do real-world application of skills they already posses.  
New skills come about naturally instead of being taught out of context.
Projects are presented to an audience, which gives purpose for learning.
 PBLs allow students to work together to share opinions, ideas, and thought processes.
Student engagement goes through the roof.
PBLs are multi-faceted.
So let’s take a look at one of our most recent PBLs.
Two of my reading groups read two of the fiction Magic Tree House books, High Tide in Hawaii and Twister on Tuesday.  Living in Las Vegas, my students had zero experience with either of these types of natural disasters and the conversation kept coming back to these two topics.  My students were wanting more information, so we followed these books up with the non-fiction companions, Tsunamis and Twisters (and Other Terrible Storms).
My students were literally gobbling up the information in the books and several of them were researching facts at home and sharing them with the class.
So all of this led to the birth of our Natural Disasters PBL.
We had to start with our driving question.  A driving question is open ended and it something that students find intriguing and encourages them to want to find out more.  It is the driving force behind their learning.
So here is our driving question.
So with our driving question in place, each student selected a natural disaster that they found intriguing.  Then we were off with the research.  We used books from our library, classroom magazines, as well as the internet.
Once our information and data were collected, we created Powerpoints that would be used to inform the public of what each natural disaster entailed so that they, the public, would be able to identify one if they ever encountered one.
Next, we created posters informing the public what to do to be prepared for a natural disaster and what to do following a disaster.
Since our school is not only doing a push for PBLs, but also STEAM, we decided to take this whole project one step deeper and create structures that would withstand the specific type of natural disaster that each student had studied.  Of course, they knew that Legos and linking toys would not be the building materials of choice.  Students had to be prepared to tell us what they would use to create disaster-proof structures.
Sadly I accidentally deleted photos of their final product.
 The final part of our PBL was to share their knowledge with an audience.  The information was first shared within our classroom.  Then, their posters, copies of their Powerpoint, and photos of their structures (as well as a letter written by me explaining the project) were sent to areas that were most commonly afflicted with each specific type of natural disaster.
Yes, PBLs are time consuming, HOWEVER, the amount of learning, engagement, rigor, and application of skills to real-world experiences and events is truly priceless.  
I highly recommend that you try one!

UPDATED: I recently collaborated with our GATE teacher and we created a Nutrition PBL centered around The Big Bad Wolf. We had so much fun using it with our students. You can grab it by clicking on the picture below.

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