Show Some Love for Pets – A Kindergarten Class’s Journey in Project-Based Learning

Last semester, our two Kindergarten classes engaged in a Project-Based Learning (PBL) adventure about pets. The students researched their favorite animals throughout the year from experts, story books, movies, and informational texts, and then turned their knowledge into content for a storybook that they affectionately called “P is for Pets.” The students illustrated each page of the book using collage art. They also designed songs for an accompanying music album. The project culminated with a book publishing event complete with a screening of their music videos, a book reading, and book signings by the authors.

Here is the digital version of the book they designed with the accompanying songs.

 

P is for Pets is a book two kindergarten classes designed over a school semester. Source: Brad Walsh

The Gold Standard PBL model was used to highlight key elements of the P is for Pets book publishing project.

This project followed the Gold Standard PBL model.
Source: www.bie.org

 

Challenging Problem or Question /Essential Question

All of our teachers own or owned pets, and we had noticed students were also passionate about animals. One of our school’s core values is “show some love to others,” (care and empathize with others), so we decided that caring for pets was a great way for students to understand this core value.

Some ideas for essential questions we originally came up with were “How can we care for animals?” “Why do people care about animals?” Eventually, the students and teachers tied the essential question and project outcome together after analyzing models of excellence for the storybook design. “How can we show some love for pets?” was the final iteration of our project’s essential question. It came from a student sharing his thoughts about how a book about pets could inspire others to care about pets.

Project Launch

The children interacted with the animals and insects at Chaoyang Park in Beijing over a few weeks to help them relate to the goals of their project. Source: Brad Walsh

At the beginning of the semester, we had the privilege of being located in ChaoYang Park in Beijing. This allowed us to get outside and be one with nature. It also provided us with the great opportunity to see firsthand the children’s interactions with animals and insects. We reflected on these experiences with the children using thinking strategies such as “I used to think… Now I think…” and “I see… I think… I wonder,” which helped them make connections to our project topic. For example, we interviewed a woman running a goldfish fishing game about how she cares for the fish before they are caught, and if she wonders about the fish safety and well-being after they are taken home. One student’s response to this event was “I used to think these goldfish were happy, and now I think people treat them as toys. I hope people can show more love to them.”

Sustained Inquiry / Need to Know / Knowledge Harvest / Research

First, students brainstormed pets and animals they knew. We also did some fun phonics activities to help students identify and categorize the pets according to their initial letters.

Many letters had more than one pet/animal associated with it, so the students did class surveys to identify one favorite animal for each letter (This is why we ended up with odd pets, such as a narwhal!)

The kids surveyed each other to decide on which pets they wanted in their book. Source: Brad Walsh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, we held reading workshops and prepared Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling (TPRS) activities such as MeTalks, PictureTalks, MovieTalks, One Word Images, and StoryAsking to build the students’ English language fluency in the target language they would use to create content for their book. After each activity, students shared their learning in a KWL reflection exercise, which we documented.

The students researched and documented the content for their book. Source: Brad Walsh
The students performed TPRS activities, such as Story Asking, to build up their target language skills in before developing the content for their book. Source: Brad Walsh

Some other authentic activities that helped build the students’ language skills and knowledge for creating the book content include:

  • Caring for class pets (butterflies and hamsters).
  • Talking with insect guest speakers
  • Interviewing policemen who care for police dogs
  • Interviewing people who manage the goldfish fishing activities in Chaoyang park.

The children participated in a variety of real-world connected activities to help them come up with content for their books. Source: Brad Walsh

Publicly Presented Product

The teachers decided on a book as a publicly presented product, but we respected “student voice and choice” as much as possible in other project aspects, such as the book’s layout and illustrations on their own. The students also composed a music album. They felt the songs would make the book more attractive to students their age who couldn’t read. Here is how we designed the book step by step with the students’ voice and choice at the forefront:

Part 1: Designing the book illustrations

The content for the book was inspired by the book E is for Earthworm.
Source: http://modelsofexcellence.eleducation.org

For the illustrations, we began by analyzing and evaluating ‘Models of Excellence (MoE)’ in order to create our own guiding rubric of the work we produced. We looked at different children’s books, such as the book “E is for Earthworm”. They loved the book’s collage artwork, so we looked at more books with this illustration style, such as works by Eric Carle (i.e. The Hungry Caterpillar). To help maximize the outcomes of these brainstorms, we had the children share their thoughts using “I see… I think… I wonder…” The teachers recorded the children’s thoughts on the artwork.

Students practiced layering techniques for their book’s artwork. Source: Brad Walsh

Some artwork ideas the students came up with included:

  • using contrasting colors
  • using similar color themes (i.e. different shades of red)
  • using playdough for animals
  • use colored paper
  • layer the paper for a 3D effect
  • taking quality pictures of the artwork
What happens when the quality of work doesn’t match expectations? This happens in just about every project, and ours was no different. Our first final draft was largely left to the students’ own creations, but the final outcome was not up to their high personal standards.
The original drafts of each page in the book were not up to students’ expectations, so they continued to evaluate and revise their work. Source: Brad Walsh

So as not to discourage the students, but still push them to persevere in improving their work, we held art design skills workshops guided by Critical Friends sessions. The students gained the constructive feedback necessary to guide their iterations.

The students were given a chance to draft their drawings of different pets first. We got inspiration for this drafting process from Austin’s Butterfly.

A  student’s pet frog drawing before and after receiving feedback and revisions. Source: Brad Walsh
Source: Brad Walsh

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After, students practiced designing their collages. They learned how to center the pets images on the page, how to layer, how to design color themes with similar and contrasting colors. Eventually, the pages started taking on personality. Most importantly, the children were satisfied with the quality of the artwork they designed.

The students practiced layering techniques to make their collages more vivid. Source: Brad Walsh

For example, students chose various shades of blue and orange as the color theme for the narwhal page. The students identified ice, sea, splashing water, sky, fish and clouds as the elements in a narwhal’s environment, and then we matched appropriate shades of blue for each of those elements. The contrasting orange was used for the sun.

The students learned how to select color themes for each pet page. Source: Brad Walsh

Part 2: Designing the book

We used Book Creator to design our books. We first familiarized students with its functions, such as uploading pictures, writing different text fonts, adding in sound, deleting images, drawing in images, and adding background colors.

When the students were comfortable with the Book Creator functions, they worked on designing the page layouts.

The students used Book Creator to add illustrations to connect with the book content. Source: Brad Walsh

During one Critical Friends session, a student pointed out that some  of the text wasn’t represented in the artwork. So, we went back through all of the pages to fill in the missing illustrations. For example, on the ‘H is for Horse’ page, students noticed that hay and a brush needed to be added to the picture to support the text, so they drew it in using Book Creator’s drawing function.

The author’s page was a last-minute personalized add-on, which made the kids laugh and scream with excitement. We saw how the children’s faces were superimposed on the worms in the book “E is for Earthworms,” so the students all agreed to include this in their book. This aspect really made the book publishing experience authentic for the children.

Personalizing the book with the students’ pictures on their favorite animal helped make the book publishing experience authentic for the children. Source: Brad Walsh

Part 3: Designing the music

We spent some time with the students in sampling children songs, selecting rhythms, adding and mixing beats, and allowing them to practice singing their lyrics to the beats. The student’s enthusiasm for the songs is almost tangible as they listen to their CD at home and at school every day. They have also memorized all the song lyrics. You can listen to the music here:

Authenticity – Exhibition Day

We planned a book publishing event to celebrate the publishing of our book on Amazon for just this reason.

Students also designed a music album for their book. Source: Brad Walsh

Before the book release, we had professionals discuss with students what a book publishing event is, and discuss book publishing choices, such as binding options, book cover and printing options, ISBNs, etc.

Our book publishing event involved a screening of music videos from our album and an autograph signing. (The students absolutely loved signing their names on the author’s page right below their pictures!)

The students held a book signing for the release of their book. Source: Brad Walsh

We also published the book online using an Amazon online seller account through Amazon’s CreateSpace. Check out our book here!

Assessments and Reflections

We reflected on our creativity, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking growth in the project using these rubrics. We also had a “What I know now…” discussion about our pet knowledge. Perhaps the most impressive reflection on the project came from a young girl in class. She said “I know now that books are magical. They help you share something you love with many people, which can help make us all better. More kids should publish books about what they love.”

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Brad Walsh
I am ETU School’s Vice Principal in charge of Project Based Learning Curriculum Development and English Teaching. Throughout my teaching career, I have been specializing in developing positive psychology in children through STEAM-based (Science, Engineering, Art, Technology and Mathematics) activities, and have even written and published textbooks with my team in these subject areas.  I am also very passionate in learning about innovative classroom projects, so please feel free to share your ideas with me!

Email: brad@etuschool.org
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