Category Archives: Project Based Learning

Hormones, Egos, Attitudes, and Middle Schoolers

I have been a middle school teacher for almost 20 years. I have worked with some great people, and and have had some wonderful students over that time span. I love being a middle school teacher who teaches gifted children. I was called to this awesome career.


What I love about gifted middle schoolers are their hormones, egos, and attitudes. Sometimes as a middle school teacher you have to wade through all sorts of stuff. My gifted students are all unique, but they all have to deal those three things. Traversing these issues is a something that middle school teachers face everyday.

Gifted children are very smart. They have the need and desire to have and be friends, but going through the maturation process can be rough. As gifted children get older they begin to separate from their peers emotionally and socially. This can be a complicated process. So I try to hard to allow my students time to form friendships. The culture of my classroom is that it is a safe place to be yourself. Hormonal changes are natural, and they can’t be stopped, but we as teachers can help guide them through it. Gifted students may not know why they feel the way they do, but as long as you are open to talking to them you can help make a difference for them.

Middle School gifted children can have egos. I know for some this may seem like new news, but it is true. Gifted children get used to being one of the smartest people in their class. When gifted children realize this, they can start to get an ego. Having an ego isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It is how this ego is developed. Gifted children don’t always like to compromise, because they often feel that their ideas are the best. Gifted students need to learn art of compromising when working with a small group. In our classroom, I try place a lot of emphasis on compromising since we do a lot of group/team projects. I try to model to them that being smart is great, but leading and showing others they can effectively contribute with the group is better. Keeping a middle schooler’s ego in check isn’t easy. It takes time, but in the end they will see the value in what they can do when they work together.

Along the same lines as egos are attitudes. Middle schoolers in general can go through different emotions that can change their attitudes on a multitude of things in just a short amount of time. This is actually one of the aspects that draws me to be a middle school teacher. Gifted children have attitudes that can rival average learning students. They are quick to see the injustice of the world; they are quick to judge the decisions they deem unfair; and they also want to change the world with their ideas and viewpoints. I have seen my students rally behind a classmate who is struggling with some personal aspects. I have seen my students stand up for one another when they feel one of their classmates is treating them unfairly. I have seen the fire of debates between students, and the realization in their eyes when they realize they can impact the world around them. If you are going to be a middle school teacher you are going to deal with student attitudes good or bad.

Middle School is just that…middle school. They aren’t in elementary school, and they don’t see themselves as little kids. They aren’t in high school, but they can see themselves there. They are stuck in the middle. When you realize this group of students is awesome, it is then you realize you are middle school teacher.

What do you like about middle school?




Space and Science on Display

**I want to first start out by saying this post isn’t necessarily about gifted education.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to go with the Lima Senior High School Moon Rover team to Huntsville, Alabama to participate in the NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge. They were the only high school in Ohio to participate. This is the first year we were able to compete with two rover teams.

IMG_1806Watching high school and college students going up against each other in a challenge was awesome. Every school had different designs, different materials, but all had to meet the same requirements.

Our students came up with a great design, and they built it. They made some alterations to the rover based on the data they collected from the course. It was all science and engineering.


What was the most interesting aspect to the weekend was having the ability to go up to other teams and ask them about their rover. Teams would openly share their failures and successes. They shared what they loved most about their rover, and how they felt they did against past years from their schools. Teams also gave permission to take pictures of their rovers. The comradery amongst teams was great. They all had the shared experience of designing, building, and racing their rovers.

After two days of racing, we gave the students the chance to check out the Marshall Space Flight facilities.  They got the chance to see rockets up close, and have the opportunities to talk to real astronauts.

What I hoped our students took away from the weekend was just how important STEM, and STEAM programs are. I hope they saw that having skills like welding, carpentry, and machining are important career and technical skills. I hope they saw that engineering isn’t necessarily a single person career, but a team effort.

I hope they took away from the weekend perseverance, tenacity, and team work. I saw our students overcome some issues with their rover, and come through on the other side with a better product. They started out together as 2 teams, and left as one large team. They had goals, some were met, and some we have to try again next year.

Overall, students from all schools had an opportunity of lifetime. They raced each other, they inspired each other, and they helped to propel the idea that this generation could impact the future with their creativity, skills, and their experiences with science and engineering.

Why I Love Project Based Units

The past two weeks my students have finished their research, and now are moving into filming and editing their Mythbusters style video.


One group, who chose the myth that a bike could set off a light sensor, did most of the filming this morning. They wanted to get as authentic data as possible. So we had to wait until all the cars had left the driveway of our school to test their myth (which wasn’t easy).

The students timed their peer riding a bike over the sensors for several minutes before giving up. We then used my van to drive over the sensors, and we timed to see when the light would change from red to green. It happened at about 50 seconds. Based on the information they gathered today they thought their myth was busted. Then we got a twist.

I posted the above picture on Facebook with a description of what my students were doing. We were amazed that I got a response from a friend of mine. My friend told me that if the senor was readjusted to have increased sensibility then the bike would have set off the senor, and turn the light from red to green. My students went nuts!

After hearing the news, my students went through their research and notes they took to try to come up with a way to understand the sensors a little more. We concluded that with that new piece of information that their myth was plausible.

This is why I love Project Based Learning. You never really know where the project will lead you when you don’t know the absolute answer. My students got some authentic data, and they got an authentic real answer. All of their research was leading them to the fact it was impossible for a bike to set off a street sensor. My students were so excited to see that something they thought they could prove to be false has a slight chance of hope of being true.

Project Based Learning is something that I am planning on continuing, because I feel that it gives my students a real chance of learning something real. It makes them critically think, and research and organize their work.  They have the chance to see learning in action. They gained skills in interviewing, anylzing data, forming a thypothesis, and using critical thinking skills to come up with an answer. I believe these skills will be used by them after they get out of school and into the community.

What are you doing to help give your students a chance at authentic real world learning? Have you tried Project Based Learning? If so what are some of your experiences?


Catching my Breath

The last few weeks have been busy here. My classes are working on their Project Based Learning units. This one will be the last one of the year since we only have a few class meetings left before summer starts. Four of my classes are writing, acting in, and editing their Mythbuster’s Video project. The fifth class is designing a cross-country vacation for a family of four. The projects have been keeping me pretty busy.

My Tuesday through Friday groups are in various places in their Mythbuster’s projects. We started to film last week on Thursday and Friday. I can’t wait to show those videos off to everyone. My students are working hard at it.

My Monday group just wrapped up its vacation project. They have been planning on taking a family of four from Washington D.C to Seattle Washington with some cool stops along the way. I am impressed with what they came up with, and how they allotted their budget.

On the burner now is the field trip that I am taking my students on in two weeks. We will be going to COSI in Columbus, Ohio. COSI stands for Center of Science and Industry. It is an awesome museum with so many hands-on activities for children and adults to do. I will post about this trip after it occurs. I should have a lot of pics and stories to share.

Next week we will have our state exams, the Ohio Achievement Assessments. My students are somewhat nervous. Some aren’t. I continually encourage them to do their best on the tests. Generally my students do well on these exams. The one thing I worry about now is will there be enough growth from their previous year’s score. I don’t know, but we will soon find out.

So, with just a few weeks before the school year is out, try to catch your breath. Enjoy these last few weeks with your students. I know I am trying. particularly with my 8th graders. I will miss them as they move on to the high school. I have watched these students grow from little 3rd graders into teenagers. I know they will be successful in the high school. I also know many will continue to keep in touch.

How are you doing with catching your breath with all of the end of the year activities your school is doing before summer starts?


The PBL Classroom of Twists and Turns

Today has been full of surprises. The following is why I love to do Project Based Learning (PBL) in my Gifted Classroom.

One group of my students is trying to figure out what kind of sensors we have in the road that triggers traffic lights to change from red to green or vise versa here in Lima. They researched two common types of sensors used around the United States: weight and magnetic sensors. They spent most of last Friday, and this morning coming up with interview questions to the Public Works Director.

The moment came, and my student called the Public Works Director. The Director transferred him to the electricians who install the sensors. We found that the sensors in our roads here in Lima are mass triggered. My student was stunned. So he began to change some of his questions after the electrician described how they work. My student took down his number, and asked to call him back later in the day with a few more questions. The electrician has agreed.

Now that is authentic learning. Sometimes you have to change what you are doing because of a new piece if information. Students don’t get that doing problems out of a book. The information was made real when he talked to the guy who installed the sensors. That guy knows those things inside and out. My student found that authentic learning is different from book learning. I truly believe he will not forget the feeling he got this morning having to adapt his questions so as not waste this guys time, but also how it felt to hear from an expert what these sensors are, and how they work. You can’t plan that.

I think every classroom should have its twists and turns. Having that feeling of not knowing what to expect is so important. Not only for students, but for teachers as well. I have to tell you I was shocked by the student interview. He did a great job. He was polite, and was succinct. He let the Electrician know he was taking notes for a project. He did everything right that he practiced. He just didn’t know he and I were not on the right track.That’s education. The learning process is full of twists and turns.

As I said, today has been full of excitement, and twists and turns. Students are learning. What I love about PBL units is that you never truly know what path it will lead you, or what part your students will be most jazzed about. But, when you find it you know it.

What are you doing to encourage authentic learning in your classroom? When was the last time you were surprised by the outcome of an activity in your classroom?

Building Student Independence

As the school year is coming closer to the end, I look at preparing for the last few projects of the year. My students have probably two more projects for this school year. I look forward to this time of the school year, because the last project my students do they are responsible for creating. It’s their choice of what they will do. I wait to do this type of project until the end of the year because I feel it is important for my students to have some critical skills under their belt before they start on their own.

Some of the skills I feel they have to know before the have their own independent project is:

How to form a central question to answer: When starting out on an independent project it is important to have that central question to answer. That question is what the whole project is based on. Forming that question is what can make or break a really good independent project. Through out the year I show my students the central question that they are to answer. We break it down in to parts, and I walk them through the steps of their projects. As the year goes on, I give them more and more independence.

How to research effectively: Once my students have their question broke down into parts, they begin to research. I have found if they break down the large parts of the project into smaller parts students don’t become encumbered so much. Those smaller parts help students to begin to weed out the unnecessary information that will at times take them off task. I encourage them to find some information that will ultimately lead them back to the central question.

How to organize material into usable set of information: Some of my students’ weaknesses is organization. I walk my students through a plan on how to organize their research into topics, sort of like a mind map. I give them a few ways on how to organize the materials they find, using file cards, charts, graphs, Google Docs, pictures and videos, and website or blog creation.

One aspect of all the projects that we do in my program is the fact that I incorperate as much technology as I can that will help them. Technology isn’t going away. They need to have technology skills for their future careers. They also need to know how to adapt from one kind of technology to another.

While working on their projects, I encourage my students to talk over social media. At the beginning of the year I set up an Edmodo account for them to talk. Many of my students are on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram with each other, and so they already talk and share anyways. So why not take a few minutes and check in with each other? They can use Instagram to take pictures of their research they found or want to share. I also encourage them to share emails with each other. Just as a back up to using social media.

Why do independent projects? I believe there are many reasons for this.

1. They get the chance to complete a project with little intervention by adults. This gives them the freedom to take their project wherever they want to.

2.  Gifted students have no problem in grasping main points. By doing an independent project they will have the chance to find the main points themselves, and have the chance to research those points as deeply as they want to.

3. Students get the chance to learn how to take notes that fits their style of learning. Which leads to organizing the way their strengths leads them to.

4. Most of my students work in groups. So sharing responsibility is important. It teaches them they need to trust others to do their fair share. It also makes them to put into places rules and consequences to control their group so the work is shared.

5. Finally, I think doing independent projects helps to build  personal strengths and helps students to become confident. I have seen students who are unsure of themselves at the start of the project to become more confident as projects come to a conclusion. Sometimes it takes something hard like a project for students see their strengths, and to see their confidence go up.

I don’t know how you feel about independent projects. I don’t know if you see what I see when students are working on projects, but I do know my students benefit from doing them. Its’ one of those things my students look forward to. It’s one of those things I can hear them brainstorming about throughout the whole year.

The overall goal of doing independent projects is get students to become more independent. When they become more independent they are taking more of an ownership in their learning.

What do you think? What’s your take on independent projects?

Bottoming Out

How to Be Amazingly Good at Asking Questions

How much of a push do you push your gifted students? How deep into a subject do you expect them to go? How deep do you expect them to go before they bottom out?

I ask those questions, because those are the ones I am asking myself lately. One aspect that I am having my students do with their projects is to have them do a dry run presentation with an adult before they do their final presentation with me. One teacher in my building made the comment that it seemed like my students really worked hard and dove deep in a project. This teacher also asked me how I get them to do this level of work, when they don’t do that kind of work in some of their core classes. I told him that I think our students our students are being superficially challenged, but not to dig deeper into a subject. I suggested that being challenged and diving deeper are two different things. He disagreed which is where our conversation ended. I believe that students can be challenged and not dive deeper into a subject, and vise versa. I feel that to as teachers we need to do both challenge and encourage diving deeper in extension projects.

Which leads me into this post.

Yesterday, I talked about the fostering the love of learning. I try to create a classroom that is exciting, and open to learning. I try to create units I think my students would like. BUT…do my students bottom out while doing their projects? I am not sure if they do to my satisfaction.

One element of my class I feel is really important is asking questions. I feel that my students do better with a facilitator type classroom than in a teacher centered classroom. In a facilitator classroom asking the right questions is vital. Here is a few things that I am working on to help me help my students to bottom out.

  • Don’t ask simple one word questions.
  • Ask questions that move students from factual to conceptual.
  • Ask questions that help students to make connections to prior knowledge about concepts and skills. 
  • Give students time to respond.
  • Ask follow-up questions.

Asking the right questions is only part of this process of bottoming out. It is important for facilitators to ask deeper questions, but it is also important to give students the direction, materials, and skills to go deeper on their own. Facilitators need to show students how to find valuable resources. Honing research skills is a life long skill that will help them in life. Linked with that is organizing materials so they can see connections and directions.

One aspect that I am incorporating in to my classroom is using mind maps. Mind maps can be very helpful when figuring out the parts of a project. Students can ask questions and link those questions to other questions or places to look to the answers. Mind maps are so versatile and can be used in so many different ways. I am not sure why I haven’t really done this before.  There are also mind maps apps for the iPad, or google tablets. There are also many different websites students can use that could be linked to their Google Docs.

Here is a few mind map resources.



Here is a great website for mind map iPad apps.

One thing that I tell the regular education teachers in my building that challenging gifted children doesn’t have to be a challenge for you. You don’t have to know the answers. Give them extension assignments. assignments that help them dive deeper into an area of what you are teaching. Give them a few questions to start. Let them develop their own ideas and direction they want to go, and let them be creative in the product they design. By placing fewer restrictions on them it will allow them to be free to look at ulterior view points, and look at facts from different angles.

It’s the same here in my pull-out program. I give them some direction. depending on the student I will do some scaffolding, and more direction. When giving extension projects or project-based (PBL) units it is important to know your students. It is also important to show students where their strengths are, and teach them how to make those stronger.

I go back to the question…how to get students to bottom out of an extension project or PBL unit? I don’t think that it is possible. I think there are so many roads in and out of a subject that the farther in you go, there is more roads you find. I think it is important to show students that there are many roads, and to explore the roads that lead them to the most success educationally and personally.

How much of a push do you push your gifted students? How deep into a subject do you expect them to go? How deep do you expect them to go before they bottom out?