Best Practices: Project based learning at VCES

Bringing the standards to life 
Project based learning is one of the “best practices” that VCES teachers follow when building and planning curriculum. Project based learning (PBL) is a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects. Students create, plan, build, and work collaboratively as they answer driving questions that are at the foundations of the project. When students actively engage with information, ideas, and problems, their conceptual understanding becomes more sophisticated and meaningful, and retention is high.
VCES teachers use the project based learning model while delivering the California state social studies and science standards. The projects that VCES teachers create frequently evolve each year to suit the needs and interests of that particular group of students, while still aligning with the state standards.
What does PBL look like at VCES?
A closer look at a 2nd grade PBL at VCES
Community: Los Angeles
CA state standards addressed:
  • 2-LS4-1. Biodiversity and classification of plants and animals
  • 2.2 Map skills: directionality, how to read a map
  • 2.3 United States government functionality
  • 2.4 Basic economic concepts
PBL DRIVING QUESTION (the real-world concept to which the standards connect):  
As community planners, how do we build a city that allows us to live in harmony with the plants, animals and terrain around us?
we are scientists
This 2nd grade "community board" is the result of a year spent working through the driving question.
Teacher-created lessons and activities within this project are designed to help students answer the driving question in an engaging and meaningful way.
See examples below:
1. Map work: understanding and mapping Earth’s surface features
  • Activity: if you floated down a river, where would you end up?
  • Discussion: why is there sand at the beach?
  • Research: what’s strong enough to make a canyon?
2nd graders make maps with topographical features:


2. Classroom Election for Community Mayor
  • Discussion: who gets to be in charge of a community?
  • Activity: mayoral election (2nd graders decided to use the Kevin Henkes mice characters as nominees for mayor.)
10Students nominated characters from the Kevin Henkes books, wrote a persuasive piece, and made speeches to their classmates to win votes.11
Students go to the classroom voting booth to cast their votes.
3. "Critter books": animal biodiversity, classification, habitats and engineering
  • Discussion: how many different kinds of animals are there?
  • Field trip to the Arboretum: students made notes in their critter books as they observed animals.
  • Discussion: why do frogs say ribbit?
  • Experiment: design a bird feeder that successfully feeds the most birds.
Arboretum field trip to research animal classification in critter books:
4. Student garden: plant biodiversity and classification
  • Discussion: how does it benefit everyone when communities grow their own food?
  • Activity: replicate victory gardens in the class model community and learn when to plant specific plants.
  • Activity: students sell produce they grew in the garden.