St John’s Pre-Prep turns trash into treasure

| April 6, 2011 | 0 Comments

By Linda Bradfield

After attending last year’s Schoolnet conference at Durban Girls’ College, I returned to school motivated by a presentation that I had attended.

It was presented by Kevin Sherman and was entitled ‘Project Based Learning’ (PBL). Sherman carefully unpacked the following definition: Project Based Learning is a systematic teaching method that engages learners in acquiring knowledge and skills through an extended inquiry process structured around complex, relevant questions, carefully designed products and authentic tasks. (Introduction to Project Based Learning Handbook)

  • Students learn more deeply when they can apply classroom gathered knowledge to real-world problems, and when they take part in projects that require sustained engagement and collaboration.
  • Active learning practices have a more significant impact on student performance than any other variable, including student background and prior achievement.
  • Students are most successful when they are taught how to learn as well as what to learn.
  • There is a difference between knowledge and skills. Knowledge: What is a doorknob? Skill: Opening a door.
  • Inquiry-based learning honours learners’ drive to create meaning from their world. It assumes that people want to learn and naturally have questions about their world.
  • PBL is designed to acknowledge the importance of standards and evaluation of student learning. Essential questions or Curriculum Framing Questions keep the focus of the project on the learning objectives and assessment standards.
  • The project should highlight provocative issues or questions that lead students to in-depth exploration of authentic and important topics.
  • Project-based learning specifies products that solve problems, explain dilemmas or present information generated through investigation, research or reasoning.
  • Authentic, real-world tasks create a need to know the material being studied.
  • That NEED pulls the learners towards information, which is better than teachers PUSHING/PULLING learners in a direction.
  • Learners are more engaged and interested in authentic tasks.

At St John’s Pre-Preparatory School, I launched a project-based learning lesson with a group of Grade 1 boys. My motivation for doing the project was personal drive as well as an attempt to teach 21st century skills at Grade 1 level.

Development of the project
Project topic: In choosing a topic, I decided on pollution. I felt that teaching the boys to recycle as a primary step towards keeping our planet clean was very important.
Learning areas: Literacy, Numeracy, Life Orientation, ICT, Community Service.

The 21st century skills incorporated in this project include:

  • creativity
  • critical thinking
  • collaboration and communication
  • the use of information, media and technology
  • life and career skills.

Project objective: The objective of the project was to collect as much waste to recycle as possible, and to turn this waste into cash to donate to charity or to purchase essential school equipment. A follow-up objective was to challenge other schools in the community to do the same, so that they could earn money for their schools.

Planning stages:

1. Introduction
The parents were invited to a presentation about project-based learning and the incorporation of 21st century skills into the curriculum. At this presentation, I explained the stages of the project and that the parents would have to play a collaborative role by assisting their boys in researching information to place on the ‘Wikispace’ that I created for the purposes of this project.

2. Investigation
This involved reading selected library books and articles on the internet. The Pre-Prep Reading Programme exposes the boys to a wide variety of reading material, thus giving this group of children the ability to read a good amount of the information presented to them. A guest speaker from Whole Earth addressed the Pre- Prep boys on recycling. These findings were recorded on their ‘wiki’ pages and later used to create electronic storybooks.

3. Collection
Each boy brought his trash to school each day. It was sorted, weighed, amounts recorded and tallied on weekly prepared recording sheets. Various recycling companies were called in to collect the waste material, and the three classes bringing in the most trash weekly were acknowledged at Assembly each Friday.

4. Presentation
I formulated a template from which the boys were able to prepare a presentation. Skype conversations were arranged with teachers from other schools and we visited schools to do the presentation and to challenge those children to recycle their waste.

5. Donation
Plastic was donated to the informal recyclers who passed our school each week. The boys chose to donate their monetary collection to an animal charity, so we all visited Animals in Distress in Midrand to see the work done there and to hand over a cheque of R1 200 to them. The class of six- and seven-year-old boys involved in the project became highly efficient entrepreneurs who collaborated well with their peers to collect eight tons of waste in six weeks. They became confident motivators and spoke well to the school body as well as to the children at the schools we visited. They learnt to relate well to all the different people that they met and were sensitive to their needs. Throughout the duration of the project, they remained passionate about the cause.

Microsoft Innovative Teacher’s Forum
I entered this project in the Microsoft Innovative Teacher’s Forum and was fortunate to be nominated as one of 20 finalists in South Africa. After two busy and informative days at the Sci-Bono Centre in Johannesburg, my project was chosen as the winning project in the collaboration section. I then went on to compete in the Pan- African Innovative Education Forum and was chosen as the winning project there. At the worldwide event held in Cape Town in October, I was fortunate to get the opportunity to meet and collaborate with numerous teachers from all over the world, and the Trash-to-Treasure project gained me a semi-finalist position at this event.

Linda Bradfield is the Information and Communication Technologies teacher at St John’s Pre-Preparatory School.

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Category: Autumn 2011

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