6 Weeks to a Project-Based Learning Classroom–Week 2

PBL, project based learning, seating arrangements

Easing in to Project Based Learning–Week 2

When you decide to change to a project-based learning mindset, your classroom will probably need to change as well.  Here a 3 essential needs to put into practice.

Seating Arrangements

In a project-based learning classroom, for example, students sitting in rows just doesn’t work.  Students will need to be where they can work collaboratively with ease.   (As a matter of fact, the only time I will ever use rows is near the end of the school year.  That is my attempt to curb talking and end-of-the year excitement! Lol)

The way that I most often arrange my seats is in groups of 4, no more than 5.  I would rather have a group of 3, than a group of 5–I just think that someone always gets left out when there are groups this large.  Either someone is not doing the work (and therefore not learning) or there is not a role for that 5th person.  

Another aspect to consider when making seating arrangements if your own mobility throughout the classroom.  Be aware of the size of your students.  This past year I had two of the best guys in my room!  They were both comedians and best friends.  But one was 6 ft tall and the other was about 3 ft tall!  Lol.  That 6 foot tall guy had to have lots of legroom!  I sat him strategically so that (1) he could be comfortable, and (2) I could get around the room easily (3) other students could see over him when I used the board.  

If you use Alternative Seating in your classroom, I am jealous! It has been something I have wanted to try.  Alternative Seating is the idea that students will learn better and will be able to collaborate easier if they are comfortable.  There are usually a hodge podge of seating types–beanbags, bar-height tables/stools, standing desks, etc.  

Using Alternative Seating in a project-based classroom would definitely come with its own set of procedures that will differ from traditional seating arrangements.  Though, it is my belief that when you TEACH and REINFORCE any procedure, students catch on quickly and will assimilate easily.

Bookshelves/Display areas

In most classrooms in America, I would bet that there is a shortage of storage areas!  Teachers are hoarders by nature and we mostly keep that “stuff” at school.  In a project-based classroom, you are going to need lots of space to store and display projects.  So, cleaning out that “stuff” is a good place to start this summer!

I teach social studies and science in an upper elementary classroom, so I have discovered that having this space ready to go BEFORE you begin a project is ESSENTIAL!  There is nothing worse than getting to the end of a class period (with projects only half done) and having 25 students want to know where their projects will be stored and BE SAFE until the next class period!  They don’t want their projects to be mixed up with another class…and you definitely do want that headache!

Get creative when you think about storing your projects.  Sometimes they can hang from the ceiling, from a line that you have strung across the room, or even can be tacked to a bulletin board.  I use the top area of my cubbies to store projects, as well as other shelves that I have near the back of my classroom.  I also use the tops of my air conditioner/heater! Lol.  

There are a couple of storage rooms in my school, but none are near my class, so I leave those for other teachers.  Our school library is the designated area that we use for Maker-Space classes, but sometimes I can still sneak a small project in there for storage! Oh, and another idea is to unstack any small filing cabinets that you may have stacked, and use the tops of them as a work space/storage space.  That really worked well for me when I had student making their Mars Rover for science and their Native American dwellings for social studies.

This summer, I have been thinking about this dilemma in my own classroom.  I do have quite a bit of storage, but you can never have enough!  There is a bookshelf in the front of my room that has great books on it, but that I never can find time to use.  I believe it is time to get those babies out of there and free up more storage space!

Other ideas for storing projects, papers, journals, etc:

*hang on a line suspended from you chalkboard tray

*hang on hooks that are suctioned to the windows (seeds grow well here)

*glue clothespins to the side of your dry erase or chalk boards to hang light items

*have simple shelves installed over your door or dry erase boards (we actually did this in our hallway and it worked well.  It is a good place for those projects that you don’t want people to touch)

*Store small pieces in pouches on back of student chair

BULLETIN BOARDS  (OR SHOULD I SAY, “COLLABORATION BOARDS?”) and Student Choice in Project Based Learning

Bulletin boards are my nemesis.  I want to put them up and leave them eternally! LOL!  Even when I taught 2nd grade, I did not like a bulletin board that had to be changed often!  To that end, the bulletin boards in my room are simple.  I have a V.I.P. board, a birthday board, a Rules board, and a student work board where I can easily clip up a piece of work and go.  

But, I am adding a new board this year (which actually means that one board will have to go–darn).  I am adding a BLANK BOARD!  This is going to become my COLLABORATION board.  Now, please don’t spill your coffee or drop your phone when I tell you this–I still have a wonderful-in-mint-condition-and-magnetic CHALKBOARD!!! Check out my pics below–all of these “boards” are actually taped to this magnificent chalkboard.  

This one is staying FOREVER!


This one stays…
PBL, project based learning
This one can be more efficient…but…it is staying too!


This one can be more efficient as well. I am thinking one of those cute birthday posters that I see in teacher stores.

{All of these boards were made on my Cricut Explore Air, by the way!  Even the cutesy treasure box on my Rules board!  I absolutely love my Cricut! }

I am going to somehow switch these boards around so that the end of the chalkboard  is uncovered.  That part will become my Collaboration Board.  

Here is my reasoning for the Collaboration Board:  Last school year, our fifth grade took an experimental field trip to JA BizTown where I saw my first Collaboration Board at the Philanthropy Center.

 {If you haven’t heard about Junior Achievement (the JA stands for this) and their new and wonderful teaching facilities, you really are missing out!   BizTown is all about the economics of a community.  There are 16 “businesses” in the BizTown nearest our school.  There are the types of businesses that people interact with daily in a community–the bank, the CPA, the shipping store, the newspaper, the TV station, the grocery store, the utilities company, etc.}

My first thought was, “This is the most boring business of all…what do these kids even do in here?”  One whole wall was a white dry-erase board!  Later in the day, I saw the kids writing on that board, but never got the chance to ask what they were writing.  As we were debriefing from this field trip, I asked one of my students about that wall.  She told me that her team was writing down ways to get other businesses to donate money to the causes they represented.  Okay.  I wasn’t impressed.  That was in January.  

In April, I visited a business that had this same type of wall.  I asked one of the employees and they told me that it is a brainstorming wall.  Their teams had regular brainstorming sessions and they used that wall as a visual aid in their sessions that people could come back to when they had more ideas!  Aha!   A light bulb was beginning to slowly illuminate in my brain!

Recently, in July of this year, I read a blog post about a wall such as this in a classroom setting. This classroom was using the Collaboration Board/Wall to give the students a place to brainstorm topics THEY would like to study about that year!  Students could also ask questions they had about topics they were curious about.  They could suggest ideas for guest speakers on a certain topic..or a field trip that could be taken to learn more about a certain topic!  Now, I was getting excited!  

{I know! I KNOW!  Chalk dust is the devil…and that is the very reason that I covered it up.  But, I have a plan to make getting the chance to write on this board seem like a student has found the Holy Grail.  Remember that blog post I had about using drama in class?!  It works people!}

This will have to be done within the confines of my content, but the possibilities are endless really!  This reminds me of mind-mapping or a stream of consciousness type activity that is constantly being added to and updated.  My bulletin board hate will be eased because either the boards will not change, or the students will be responsible for the board! YEEESSSSS!  Yay me!

Check back with me in October.  I will post pics of our board in action!

Happy Teaching!



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