Q&A: First-grade teacher Stacey Lynch Makes Movies with Project-Based Learning

First-grade teacher Stacey Lynch and her students are making movies with project-based learning. The first, focusing on hockey, was completed along with a fourth-grade class at Stedwick Elementary in Maryland. Students took part in script writing, filming, creating a "cinema" and screening "Hockey Stars Showdown."

The reaction from classmates and parents was so positive that everyone asked: "When's the sequel?" A second movie is in the works, Lynch said.

Lynch introduced project-based learning to her students about six years ago. It's opened them to new experiences and learning opportunities, she said. You can follow her ongoing work on her blog, Rockin' Out in 1st Grade at: rockinoutin1stgrade.blogspot.com/

School Outfitters asked Lynch about her experience.

1. How did you first learn about project-based learning?

I was first introduced to project-based learning when my mom and I worked at the same preschool, in the early 2000s. It was known as project approach. Right away, I fell in love with the concept.

I didn't start using project-based learning in my classroom until about six years ago. We had switched to a new curriculum. My principal and staff development teacher reminded us that this was truly a "suggested" curriculum. My principal said that if something in the lesson didn't work for us or the students – the book, the way they introduced it – then we should teach it how we sit fit for our students so they understand it while we still meet the standards.

2. Tell me about one of your most memorable project-based learning assignments, and the outcome of it.

The hockey movie from last year was incredibly memorable. It was so out of the blue. I had a lot to learn about hockey and movie making. The students learned just as much as I did. I had to do a lot of front loading at times, but it was totally worth it. Really the project was divided into three parts: Hockey, movie making, and making a movie theater!

The feedback from all the staff and students when they saw the movie felt incredible. The fact that I was able to get two of the on-air reporters for the Washington Capitals to attend the movie made the kids so happy.

Finally, the fact that it inspired one of my boys to start taking hockey lessons is priceless! I told his parents that when he becomes a famous goalie someday, I get credit!

3. How did you manage working on the movie project with fourth and first graders? How did the planning work?

Our two classes met once or twice a week. The fourth grade teacher, Tim, was so incredibly flexible. I would go to him and say, "How does this sound?" He let me take the lead, but chimed in whenever he could. (For instance, he knows a lot more about hockey as his brothers played growing up.) The trickiest part was deciding when it was a hockey learning day and when it was a day to learn about script writing and working on the movie day.

There were also times where I did movie-related things with just my class. This had a lot to do with the fact we didn't work with the fourth graders every day. It also had a lot to do with me finding opportunities to meet my curriculum standards.

4. What do you think students get from learning in a project-based learning style as opposed to a traditional method?

Voice and choice, which is pretty much what makes project-based learning amazing. Giving students a voice leads to more student buy-in, and more student buy-in means they are learning more.

Project-based learning is also more hands on. It's not just paper and pencil. Students get tired of paper and pencil tasks quite easily. The students are exposed to so much more than what we're required to teach. They also learn skills that will make them successful. (Collaboration, empathy, growth mindset, etc.)

5. How have you worked through the most challenging aspects of teaching project-based learning to younger children?

Project-based learning is the vehicle through which we teach other things. The biggest challenge - with ANY grade level - is time. Making time for students to research and work on the project. Making time for teachers to organize, collect info and plan. Making time to present the project. You just need to force yourself to do it. I write it on every single one of my to do lists, otherwise it won't get done!

6. If a teacher wants to start project-based learning in their classroom, what one piece of advice would you give him or her?

Be flexible! It's in our nature as teachers to want to have a lot of control. We need to relinquish part of that control for students to learn. Let them make mistakes. Let them find their own way of doing something - the way that works best for them. Let them present it in their own way. No matter the age, grade level, race or socio-economic background. They will rise to the occasion.

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