At TCFL, the 27th of February Independence day celebration is an amazing schoolwide project-based learning (PBL) project led by the Spanish, Art, and Dance departments. Over the course of a month, students decide on what they want to present; write scripts, songs and videos; and create costumes and backdrops for the show. It’s true collaboration at its best. Throughout the school, there is a buzz of teamwork and energy (and, yes, stress!).
This year’s theme took a multi-faceted look at education and asked: Why is our education system so weak? What needs to change in our country? How does education happen at home? The 4th grade students were focusing on “how we learn.” They wrote a song together (to the tune of “Beat It”) and worked on the choreography with their dance teacher. Their costume would be a school uniform.
Their English Language Arts teachers, Laura and Zahira, thought the costume sounded a little boring. They asked if the kids could design their own t-shirts and were given the green light, as long as they were involved in creating them. The teachers said, “Even though the show is put on by the Spanish department, we try to collaborate as much as we can. We want to give the kids as much space as possible to work on this project, so they can excel at what they’re doing. We want them to shine!”’
Zahira and Laura wanted the whole process of creating the t-shirts to be student-led. This is what they did:
- Designing: Students had to come up with a design for the t-shirts that would be uniform for all of them. This took some discussion and collaborative decision-making. They decided that the back of the t-shirt would say “Aprendo” (I learn). In our school, if students create t-shirts for special activities, as long as they include the school logo, they can wear them as school uniforms. So the 4th graders decided to put the logo on the sleeve as well. The front would be personalized with their own design.
- Brainstorming: Next they came up with a list of different ways they like to learn, such as reading, questioning, analyzing, and experimenting. They would each choose a word that reflected the way they prefer to learn and then illustrate it for the front of their t-shirt.
- Self-Reflecting: Students took time to consider how they learn best and then considered how to visually represent it. For instance, one student chose “dramatizing” and started drawing an anime. Others said, “That doesn’t really show your word.” So he had to think long and hard before he came up with two masks. Another student decided to choose “analyzing,” but as he considered how to illustrate the word, he ran into a problem: “I don’t know what to draw.” Zahira asked him what he thought learning through analysis means. This led to a discussion about investigating and exploring and finally he said, “Oh! That all starts with asking questions. I actually learn by questioning!” and he was off.
- Creating: All around the classrooms students were hard at work, drawing pictures to illustrate learning in this way. These drawings were colorful, creative, and full of imagination. Some drew pictures of experiments, while others drew pictures of themselves reading books or asking questions, creating the images they wanted on their t-shirts. Laura says, “They were so driven. They connected with the idea and got to work.” In only two days, they were all finished. One student struggled to come up with an idea and wanted to give up. However, once he saw the mock-ups, he was motivated and quickly got to work.
- Collaborating: Students shared ideas and gave each other feedback on their designs. One of them told me, “I couldn’t draw my face, so M_____ helped me figure out how to do it.”
Once the designs were completed, they were sent off to a t-shirt company to be printed. The teachers said, “Every t-shirt turned out amazing. Creating them gave the students a voice and having ownership of their costumes made them so excited and proud to wear them.”
By creating their own t-shirts, the students learned about the design process, how to communicate their ideas effectively, and how to work with others to bring their vision to life. It gave them a chance to explore their creativity while teaching them important lessons about teamwork, communication, and problem-solving. It also helped them to build a sense of pride and ownership in their learning, while showcasing their individuality and creativity.