PBL :: Bridges

We are a small group of five families who are helping our children to direct their own learning (at least some of it) through a project-based approach. We set the topic – physics – but they are leading the way and mapping their own projects. Check out the previous posts – Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4 Week 5, Week 6 and Lessons Learned.

My six-year-old's first time with a hot glue gun.

My six-year-old’s first time with a hot glue gun. He loves this method of tinkering.

Our project-based “class” continues to meet each week and the kids have finished up their initial projects, so they are in need of a new one. The class has evolved from a ‘group project class’ to one that allows the students to follow their own interests.  It was left to each parent to decide whether or not their children needed to stick with the original topic of physics. My own kids went in opposite directions, but my youngest chose to study bridges. I thought it was quite sporting of him to choose a topic that still relates to physics!

In fact, this is a topic that has resurfaced in the last four or five months, so I knew it was something that truly interested him. Often, my children will mention something and in the past, I would jump on the topic – only to find that it was a shallow learning request. The interest wasn’t there for an in-depth study. I’ve since learned to be patient and see if the topic is brought up again – in a different situation – to determine if my children are truly interested.

C, age 6, begins his self-directed project on bridges. His only "requirement" is that he teaches what he has learned to the other kids at co-op.

C, age 6, begins his self-directed project on bridges. His only “requirement” is that he teaches what he has learned to the other kids at co-op.

Thankfully, we had a friend who did an in-depth study of bridges last year, so I had some ideas of how to help my six-year-old. Perhaps because of my Montessori training – or the fact that I am a kinesthetic learner – I always try to find a concrete, hands-on way to introduce a topic. And, since this is supposed to be a self-directed project, I showed him this K’nex set and asked if he would like to begin his bridge study with that. I received a resounding “yes!”

One of the projects we found suggests learning about the strength of an arch.

One of the projects we found suggested learning about the strength of an arch. We used his brothers library books to weight the sides of the paper.

In addition to the borrowed K’nex set, we also went to the library where he found all sorts of books on bridges to check out. Unfortunately, many of them were meant for parents, but we did find a story or two.

Pop's Bridge - be Eve Bunting - is a multicultural story about the building of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Pop’s Bridge – by Eve Bunting – is a multicultural story about building the Golden Gate Bridge.

After doing some reading and playing with the K’nex set, he built a cable-stayed bridge. Would I have chosen to build one of the more advanced bridges first?  No!

I think that project-based learning provides many opportunities to observe your children – as their own people. It’s quite humbling to realize that neither one of my children wants to build the items in the order they are suggested. Instead, they decide which one looks the most interesting and they build that. At least I think that’s how their brains work.

Thankfully, he was able to build it entirely on his own and then decided that he needed to draw it and create another one – out of popsicle sticks.

C chose the first bridge he wanted to build - a cable-stayed bridge.

C chose the first bridge he wanted to build – a cable-stayed bridge.

He decided he needed to draw a picture to be able to make his popsicle bridge. Hot glue is amazing.

He decided he needed to draw a picture to be able to make his popsicle bridge. Hot glue is amazing.

He then chose to repeat this formula with the beam bridge and the suspension bridge. All of the work was done on his own. He asked for help with the initial pillars , so I held those in place while he glued them down.

In the background - a cable-stayed bridge. Foreground- a suspension bridge and on the far right - a beam bridge.

In the background – a cable-stayed bridge. Foreground- a suspension bridge and on the far right – a beam bridge.

At this point, he is a bit stuck. He wants to bring the K’nex suspension bridge as part of his presentation, but he still wants to build an arch bridge and a double-bascule bridge. Unfortunately, he doesn’t want to take the suspension bridge apart and rebuild it. So, I think it might be time for me to step in and suggest some of the projects from this book. We’ll see how it goes.

To read the next post on self-directed learning, continue to the presentation on bridges.