It's {almost} a Wrap! 2014-2015 Top 10 Highlights #2 Ecosystems Museum Project

School is {almost} over! And this week has been wearing me out! But, we have a 1/2 day tomorrow and I just know I can do that. It's time for #2 on my 2014-2015 Highlights list--our Ecosystems Museum Projects {our BIG project based learning unit this year}. I REALLY would love to put this one as our #1 highlight, but based on student feedback, something else took that slot, so tune in tomorrow or Saturday to find out what the #1 favorite highlight of 2014-15 was.

Ecosystems Biomes Animal Research Projects with Ecosystems Museum Project Based learning; take your animal research for the upper elementary 4th 5th grade to another level! Hands on Science projects with arts integration

I wrote about our Ecosystems Museum projects in detail earlier this year on Life, Love, Literacy so I'm prepared to tell you all about what we did. My principal {requires} at least one project based unit each year. In our first "project" earlier this year, students negotiated and presented a $20,000 budget to the principal {coming in at #7 on our highlights list}. If you are not familiar with project-based learning, the Buck Institute is a great place to start poking around. We were also strongly encouraged to figure out ways to incorporate the arts into our project too because we are working to be recognized as a STEAM school. I decided to focus my PBL unit on Ecosystems/Organisms through an Ecosystems Mobile Museum Project--Project based learning? Check! Art...Oh yeah baby! {If you didn't catch my post about my Ecosystems Research unit--how we got to the museum part--you may want read that too.}

I dare say this project was really fun and meaningful AND allowed me to incorporate lots of Language Arts and technology goals into a science-based unit. One note to keep in mind as you read, I collaborated with the 5th grade teacher for this unit, so anything I did focused on Organisms and Ecosystems of NC, she applied to world biomes to meet the 5th grade standards.

To launch our project, we planned a field trip to a local Natural Sciences museum. Before our visit to the museum, students received a "letter" from the museum challenging them to create a mobile museum to help the museum educate more children about ecosystems and organisms of North Carolina. The letter started with "You have been hired by the Museum of Natural Sciences to help create a mobile museum exhibit. A mobile museum exhibit is one that can be moved around from place to place. We believe that mobile museums are important for helping us educate more students beyond the walls of the museum."

Driving Question:

Project-based learning is supposed to start with a driving question. Our driving question was "How can we create a museum that educates children and adults of all ages about our state ecosystems and wildlife?"

4th grade students chose an organism local to NC’s coastal plain or the mountain region (also included temperate deciduous forest animals). 5th grade students focused on organisms from specific biomes. All students used the research pages provided to learn about their organism in-depth. The journal pages provided a focus for students’ research and the 5th grade teacher and I each chose the sheets that matched our standards.

After researching their organism, students wrote research papers AND turned those papers into Google slide shows (or other presentations) to be shown as interactive learning stations during the mobile museum. I also had plans for us to pull sentences and paragraphs from students’ articles to create informational posters for our mobile museum displays, but we didn't get the time to include this in our exhibit. {Can you say "SNOW DAYS"?}

After students completed their slideshows, I had them pair up with another student who studied a similar organism and they completed the Venn diagram from my Ecosystems research bookletmaterials. I thought this was a great way for students to experience one another's projects, but then I also realized it was a great way for them to get feedback and a motivator for revision. So, after doing the comparison activity, I copied the niche, behavioral adaptations, and physical adaptations sheets and paired students again. This time, students had to try to fill in the niche and adaptations sheets using only the information their partner provided in the slideshow. (I call this "backwards mapping" as students were kind of trying to work backwards from the slideshow to the research template.) This activity created a lot of motivation to revise their projects and to include missing information. (Constructive feedback for 21 kids given by other classmates? PERFECTO!)

Simultaneously with our in-class research, students created a 3-D model of their organism with either clay or by felting in art class.

After getting a good grip on our research and slide shows, I divided students into groups based on their specific ecosystem (Mountains/Forest in Mountains, by the Riverside, in a Forest by the coast, etc) and they worked together to design ecosystem murals to serve as backdrops for our Mobile Museum Exhibits. {Mural design and painting happened mostly in my classroom! I was so scared to take on "real" art happening in my classroom, but now I'm so glad I did it!} I cut butcher paper fit to the size of tri-fold boards. Groups figured out how one backdrop would flow into the next so that we had a “mountains to sea” display.

When the mobile museum was ready, we opened in the cafeteria and invited parents and all classes to attend. In case you can't tell by the pictures below, it was AH~mazing!

As grade levels came to visit, my students grabbed one student and led them around the museum. (I made a little checklist/scavenger hunt of all the organisms in our museum so that they would have a little something to engage them at the museum.) I spent the morning watching my students share their slideshows and what they had learned with students in other grades. It was so cool to see a culmination of all their hard work!

I do have some wishes for what I wish we had time to add to these projects:

* I wanted a key of the organisms (instead of using the labels you see) where students create a simple illustration of the environment and use numbers and a key to identify each organism. (This is how it's done at our local museum's exhibits)

* I wanted foreground environmental stuff (you see those bare tables? I would have loved for students to have had time to add sticks, leaves, grass, moss, etc. to the displays)

* the DECOMPOSERS in the ecosystem are missing! (Whoops!!! Something else that needed to be added to the foreground)

* Using information from students' slideshows and research to add displays and info boxes to the exhibit (like at a real museum--you have info to read as you move through the exhibits)

* And lastly, I truly had the goal of having students create one hands-on learning tool in partners. This would have helped us better meet our "Driving Question" and would have required more critical thinking as students become teachers. The 5th graders were able to pull this off. Here's two examples from their projects:

Ecosystems Biomes Animal Research Projects with Ecosystems Museum Project Based learning; take your animal research for the upper elementary 4th 5th grade to another level! Hands on Science projects with arts integration

You might ask how much time this took. We began our projects in January and wrapped up at the beginning of March. We also had nearly two weeks of snow days in there. I would estimate that we spent 2 weeks on research, 2 weeks on typing drafts, one week on slideshow creation and mural creation (same week), and that the art teacher used 5 or so art classes to help students get their 3D organisms completed. Keep in mind all of the standards I included with this one project--research and reading informational texts, writing informational texts, creating slideshows/utilizing technology, art, communicating and collaborating (to design a cohesive mural together), all of my ecosystems science goals, and a better understanding of the regions of North Carolina (social studies). I call this a WIN WIN! and my students are excited to do it again in 5th grade for their biomes unit!

I reflected on my{first} project-based learning unit using this Project Design Rubric and a PBL Essential Elements Checklist, but I was very proud of what we accomplished--3D organism models that looked amazing, a collaborative mural backdrop that flowed from one environment to the next, a final research booklet, research paper, and a google slide show. I could hardly measure the time put into this project, but I dare say it was less than or equal to what it would have taken to teach research, nonfiction writing, slideshow design, and ecosystems separately. And this project surely created memories of 4th grade!

 end of year highlights favorite classroom activities