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The Fun of Teaching and the Love of Learning through Project Based Learning

From the beginning, FernLeaf has looked for ways to set the school apart from other schools; to do education differently. One of FernLeaf's Fundamentals is to create a "Rich Learning Environment" for all of our students. One crucial way teachers at FernLeaf create that rich learning environment is through Project Based Learning, or PBL.

This teaching method offers teachers the creative space within which to let a project theme or idea evolve both intentionally and organically. When students are passionate about a cause, curious about a driving question or discover their passion through active, hands-on engagement, the project is no longer an idea or simply what they “have to do”. It becomes real and they become personally invested.

A perfect example of PBL at FernLeaf is one recently conducted by the 5th Grade during the 2022-2023 school year. The focus was advocacy with the driving question, “How do we, as local stewards, help increase public awareness about the threats to our local hellbender population and promote interactions while in the local streams?” And that’s where it started.

Over a period of 7 months, students were engaged in fieldwork that took them from a local watershed area for a snorkeling adventure as part of their Science class, to a state Fish Hatchery where they weighed and measured hellbenders to chart data as part of their Math. The research continued through their English language Arts class during which students engaged their creativity through the writing of original short stories using all the knowledge they had gained.

They invited guest authors and conservation artists to come into class to share their passion for how writing and art can provide avenues for advocacy to reach a large audience. In addition to writing their stories, they decided to also create their own hellbender art. From there, a selection was made for printing on t-shirts and stickers that they would sell in order to raise money to fund the publication of a book to showcase their creative short stories. The Hellbender Defender: A Volume of Short Stories was published. What an exclamation point at the end of their project!

PBL extends through all grade levels here at FernLeaf and creates a deep understanding and curiousity in learning. In short, FernLeaf strives to create a space where teachers have fun teaching and students love learning.

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