Integrating PBL into our grade 2 program with the support of the Cohort 21 community has been a very positive experience. I was especially inspired by the message of "trying something new this coming Monday rather than someday" - as I've had many a someday plan that never came to fruition. I was determined not to let this happen to my PBL plans, so I quickly dove in and explored it with my grade 2 students. The process was a roller coaster ride of emotions, successes, and fails.

The "Ups"

  • students' curiousity and wonderment revealed in their questions
  • the entire 1st PBL project on animals
  • independent PBL projects for students during guided writing periods
  • support from our Head of Curriculum, librarian, and grade 4 reading buddies
  • Google Hangouts with experts

The "Downs"

  • research stages of our 2nd PBL project on countries
  • finding reading material/videos at individual ability levels to answer questions was very time consuming
  • some struggled to find the answers to their questions even when books etc... contained the info they were looking for
    • some students lacked the persistence and risk taking necessary to find the answers to their questions

The "Loop de Loops"

  • changing my HMW from PBL to gifted students and back to a PBL
    • thanks to fellow Cohort 21 participants it was brought to my attention that PBL is a great way to engage gifted students
  • full range of emotions

The "Thrill Factor"

  • the unknown paths (scary but exciting) the children's questions would lead us down
  • seeing different types of student thinking (more creative) than what is often seen during traditional lessons

I think the most valuable thing I learned from this experience is that it is ok to fail when you are trying something new. Although I've always encouraged my students to feel comfortable making mistakes I never gave myself the same permission. Not everything is going to turn out as expected, and it's an important part of the learning process. This yearlong journey is "the end of beginning" of having the courage to take more risks in the classroom. I'm excited to see where this takes me.


I never thought about this until we did our first PBL project on animals earlier this year, and a grade 2 student chose this as her question. This was one of the first signs to show we were on the right path, and that this project was destined to become one of our favourites.

My How Might We from our 2nd F2F

So far, I have come full circle in my thinking during this PD experience. In our first f2f, I thought my focus would be on PBL. In January, I decided to shift my focus to gifted students and learn how to best select age/ability/interest based assignments that are appropriate, meaningful, and self-motivating for grade 2 students. It was interesting to read the feedback I received on the Crowdsourced Inspiration activity, which overwhelmingly recommended PBL as the best approach. So now I'm back to my original How Might We Question: How might we make PBL a regular part of our elementary program?

Fortunately, my teaching partner and I decided to make PBL our main focus this year and are discovering there's a lot to learn! I've included a brief summary of our experience so far this year.

Project #1 Neighbourhood Animal Project

-each student chose a local animal of interest to study and formed 3 questions (2 closed and 1 open) to answer

PBL Worries

  • What’s the difference between a good question and a bad question?
  • Students will not find answers to their questions.
  • It will be a classroom management nightmare with their lack of independence and vast range of reading levels.
  • Will I have enough resources at the right reading levels?
  • Will I become too overwhelmed and feel like bailing on the project?


-teacher librarian and tech guy
-variety of library books and online resources (Epic and PebbleGo)
-grade 4 reading/research buddies
-people in our community (ornithologist and zoologist) to speak with kids and answer questions through Google Hangouts

Take Aways

-needed all of the above resources
-tricky finding some material at low reading levels
-loved their questions and it was a great way to see all of their thinking that is often hidden
-kids were more engaged
-easier than I thought with fewer classroom management problems than imagined
-not the end of the world when kids can’t find answers
       -instead they can be creative and use background knowledge to offer a best guess
-more time consuming finding appropriate reading level or alternative resources (YouTube…) than previous projects
-keen to try it again but still a little worried

What to do Next?


We're about to begin our second PBL project on countries and would love to hear your ideas on how to improve our program.


Every year I have gifted and/or extremely strong students walk through my classroom door. Although I always make an effort to differentiate my program I struggle with keeping this group engaged and following through on their assignments. I have tried both accelerating and enriching the program. I feel pretty good about our math program right now but am always open to suggestions. I would like to see if bringing more project based learning into the program could ignite a greater interest in learning, and keep motivations high enough to see things through to completion. My greatest concern is that my program remains manageable while meeting the needs of the lowest performing students and engaging the highest.

Some questions I would like to explore are:

  • How can I use project based learning to engage more students?
  • What can I put in place to help the children be reasonably independent?
  • How can I help students see independent projects through to completion?
  • How much time should be allocated towards project based learning?
  • Which project based skills will be most valuable to teach grade 2 students?
  • How can I make these changes manageable?

Lots to think about before Saturday!


c21_logo_mediumWelcome to Cohort 21. This is the first post on your new blog. This journal is an integral part of your Cohort 21 experience. Here you will reflect, share and collaborate as you move through the C21 learning cycle towards your action plan.

Cohort 21 is a unique professional development opportunity open to CIS Ontario teachers and school leaders who are seeking to explore  what it means to a teacher in the 21st century.