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Educational Planning Process

During the planning phase of the charter, various project types will be researched and provided as examples to teachers. These can then be drawn upon by the teachers in developing a specific project for students. Most projects cannot be completely designed prior to the school year, as they will be individualized based on the needs and interests of the students in the class. A model such as the one described by The Buck Institute (“Designing Your Project”) will be used to develop the individual projects. This process encourages starting with the end in mind. First, the teacher or designer would develop the objectives students should have at the end of the project. From there a question that the students must try to answer is posed. Once the question has been developed, a method of assessment is devised that will encompass the learning objectives. The teacher then works with the students to develop a map with deadlines and steps along the way to completion of the overall project. Once the actual student work begins, the teacher then becomes a facilitator helping the students stay on track and find the information they need, offering mini-lessons and support along the way.

How would this work for a First Grade classroom? Let’s take the first general theme, “Getting to Know Each Other,” and break down how this process might work for a first grade classroom.

Step 1 - Begin with the End in Mind

The primary objective for this lesson is to develop a sense of community within the classroom and to establish classroom procedures and expectations that will help the rest of the year go successfully. Students need to become aware of how the class will be working together, project based, and how they are expected to participate and contribute to the classroom community.

Step 2 - Craft the Driving Question

Given that first graders attention span will not allow for a full 4-5 week project, especially when they are first getting used to this style of learning, students will engage in several questions and projects as part of this overall theme. Some of the potential questions that the teacher may want to address may be:

  • What do we have in common as a community?
  • How can we work together?
  • What do we expect from each other?
  • How do guidelines/expectations (rules) help us succeed?
  • How do other groups get along with each other and work together?
  • What happens if everyone doesn’t do their jobs?

Step 3 - Plan the Assessment

Each project will have its own assessment rubric. Students will be taught how to utilize rubrics as a planning guide. For the purposes of this demonstration, let’s focus on the fifth question, “How do other groups get along with each other and work together?” A teacher may want to assess based on the following criteria: 

  • Students will describe two situations where living beings interact-one human, one animal
    • Able to describe situation
    • Able to answer two questions from either peers or teacher about their situations
  • Students will imagine a situation that did not go well due to a lack of cooperation
    • Students will write, draw or record a story where a group didn’t get along
  • Students will explain why they feel it is necessary to get along in class
    • Engage in small group discussion regarding classroom cooperation

Step 4 - Map the Project

The teacher may choose to begin the unit with the story “Soccer” from Unit 1 of the first grade Treasure’s textbook. While teaching this lesson during the language arts block, the typical lessons from this unit are included (such as read aloud strategies, phoneme categorization, phoneme segmentation, phoneme deletion, final blends and CVCC words, high frequency words, fluency cues, etc.). While reading the story, the teacher would also highlight the importance of team, discuss if any of the students have ever played soccer and how they had to work together as a team. From there, the teacher can ask for examples of other teams. The teacher will then explain how the students will be investigating teams to discover how other groups get along with each other and work together. The teacher will incorporate chapter three of the science book in regards to how animals live and will encourage the students to think of groups of people and groups of animals that they might like to learn more about. Based on interest, the students can then be grouped together and each group can decide what they will research. To ensure that each student is equally participating and getting the maximized learning, cooperative learning strategies will be used. Each student will be given a specific job in each group (ex: researcher, writer, reader, or presenter). The teacher will help to guide them in the right direction. The teachers will explain their time lines, explaining what they will do today and tomorrow during the project time, and how on the following day they will need to be able to describe their situations and to answer questions about them. They will then discuss the culmination of the project and how they will be writing a story about a group that didn’t get along. 

As the teacher is mapping the plan for the project, at the same time they will be employing the use of the standards based assessment program eluded to in section one of this application. The system will allow the teacher to pick specific standards which will be covered through the mini-lessons and completion of the project. 

Step 5 - Manage the Process

The teacher then allows the students to work together on their question. The students can use the classroom library, computers, and other available resources; students will learn more about their subject. Throughout the process the teachers will use mini lessons to individual groups or to the whole class when the need arises to find specific information. For example, at one point, the teacher may pause the work time to incorporate a lesson from chapter one of the social studies book about getting along in school, or from chapter three of the science book about other living animals and how they coexist. How the teacher manages this is based on their training and the needs of the students as they progress through their learning experience. 

Using this five step approach to designing projects and questions which guide the instruction, teachers will be able to ensure that students are receiving a balanced education. Reading and writing will be the essential components of the instructional design of Pinellas Primary Academy. We believe that by integrating the various subject areas into projects, additional time will be able to be devoted toward the teaching of reading and writing skills and will provide for a more well-rounded and effective education for the students.