Hangout Recap: Managing Projects in Elementary Schools

For this week’s Hangout, we were joined by BIE Curriculum Development Manager Gina Olabuenaga, and elementary school teachers Kelly Reseigh, who has mainly used PBL with 2nd graders, and 4th-grade teacher Kevin Armstrong to discuss how they manage the implementation of projects in their elementary school classrooms.



We focused on the following Driving Question:

How do we manage projects effectively in an elementary classroom?

Here were some of the highlights:

Question 1: What is the role of classroom culture in managing a project?

Our guests agreed that classroom culture is very important in PBL, and offered these tips for building it:

  • Allow students to help facilitate Morning Meetings to practice skills they can use in a project. 
  • Help them understand what “inquiry” means; let students know that the teacher will not “hold all the answers” – model being a facilitator of their questioning.

Question 2: How do you handle the lack of independence in primary?

Kelly suggested helping young students access text relevant to the project all through the day as part of regular activities like guided reading, read-alouds, and working with older buddies and school staff specialists. Kevin echoed this, and added that it was important to let students begin answering Need to Know questions right away at the start of a project. Kelly shared the graphic below with tips for supporting all learners in PBL:



Question 3: How do you collaborate with others outside of your classroom to support project work?

Kevin said that if his teaching team is not able to find outside experts, they turn to other teachers and administrators from within their school. Kelly pointed out how beneficial it is to have students interact with other adults, even using social media if need be, such as parents who may have particular expertise, authors, or experts.

Question 4: What does Project Based Learning look like in an elementary classroom?

Kelly noted that a lot of what you’d see if you walk into a PBL classroom will look like regular teaching and learning activities done throughout the day—but it’s all related to the project. Kevin described how the 4th-grade teachers at his school rotate students through their three classrooms during their literacy block, with one teacher handling literature, one doing informational text, and the other teaching writing. Both guests said that math was not always integrated with the project, but they find ways to do so when they can. We also discussed the importance of team contracts, and the need to always allow for the possibility of student voice and choice, but within the framework of the project’s Driving Question.

Question 5: How do you prepare and manage parent involvement in a PBL classroom?

Most of Kevin’s parent population speak English as a second language, so he has project documents translated in their language to help them understand how to get involved in a project and to invite them to project presentations and exhibitions. Kelly mentioned that she finds it valuable to solicit parent feedback on how the project went and what students learned.



Key Takeaways

  • Embed projects into any and all hours of the day
  • Bring in outside experts
  • Differentiate and scaffold for ALL learners
  • Communicate with parents
  • “Embrace the chaos!”