The One and Only Ivan Global PBL

I should have written this post a long time ago. Actually, I wrote a post and some how, the whole thing got erased! Anyway, I was inspired to write again, by someone on Twitter. So I must thank her.

The One and Only Ivan is a story based on the true story of the gorilla, Ivan, who lived in a circus-themed mall for 27 years alone in a cage without ever seeing another gorilla. After National Geographic featured Ivan in a story, “The Urban Gorilla,” there was public outcry to help save him and put Ivan in a better situation. Katherine Applegate learned about Ivan and wrote a beautiful, simple story about Ivan. This novel promotes empathy in a way that is simple yet poignant and also brings up many issues dealing with the capture and caging of animals.

I attended PBL World in Napa Valley this past June. As part of my attendance, I created this project based learning unit with the help of many incredibly talented teachers and also the help of the National Faculty of Bucks Institute of Education. Now, John Scott, my friend and librarian, is helping me teach this wonderful story.It is listed as a project on the Global Classroom Projects wiki. Here are the goals of this project:
Students will read the book, __The One and Only Ivan__by Katherine Applegate.
Students will engage in self directed learning by researching the question, “Do we have the right to capture and cage animals?”
Students will engage in a project that employs and builds their empathetic skills.
Students will collaborate and communicate with each other, and with students from cultures around the world.
Students will create one book together by answering the question, “Do we have the right to capture and cage animals?
Students will decide as a global community which wildlife organization they will donate all proceeds made by the sale of the book.

The beauty of this project also includes the opportunity for teachers who want to try PBL but do not know quite where to start and would like to support from others who are doing the same thing! We will all work on the same driving question and if teachers want or need the support of resources, they are right there on the project page to utilize. I also used 21st Century Fluency Project to plan the unit and those who join are also able to use it.

I believe in project based learning to teach students in a way that is meaningful and motivating, and the learning that happens is far reaching beyond what traditional teaching can accomplish many times. I believe in global collaboration as a means of teaching students empathy and not only tolerance, but a true understanding and appreciation of people that are different from them. Global project based learning has the potential for unbelievably, powerful learning! I hope other teachers and students will take the plunge with me!


8 thoughts on “The One and Only Ivan Global PBL

  1. Heidi, my dear friend, and amazing educator, please refrain from spending your precious time replying to this nonsense….

  2. Project Based Learning is not new. Home schoolers have been doing it for 40 years. They call it DDL, delight directed learning. The PBL has two distinct problems. First, the teacher/school/curriculum picks the project, thus allowing it to be used as propaganda for a social agenda. Think about it, children love animals and the gorilla story is cruel. The desired outcome is empathy for all caged animals. Are you presenting any material that talks about why one might need to cage animals? My daughter-in-law is the most animal loving, vegan since childhood, has a rabbit with its own room person that I know. She is a research scientist with a PHD and she studies kidney disease in dogs. I can guarantee you that she has had to cage animals. In the original delight directed learning the student does a “project” on something he/she is interested in. If a child is obsessed with baseball, he can learn to read, do math, expand horizons and all that because he is super interested in the subject. If a child is into dance, or caged animals, or hair they are more likely to pursue the subject with vigor. Maybe that should be the word we’re using, vigor, instead of rigor. If someone sat down and said, what are the home schoolers doing that makes them so successful, they got it wrong with the politically correct PBL.

    The second problem with PBL is that public schools in the United States don’t do anything in moderation. Does anyone remember whole language? What we got was a “whole” generation of students who were either illiterate or semi-illiterate. Then Balanced Literacy, which was “whole language” disguised as something else. Another generation of students was delivered without the basics to even complete a project. Now public education wants to be global and politically correct. Once again, they are delivering students who can’t read and do math because the bigger picture, going global, technical, and political is more important.

    I think we should compartmentalize for a few years. In other words learn what works in teaching reading and math. Spend the massive amounts of money going into public education of research and development of curriculum. Something that is not an experiment or something that people out of the classroom developed. Then when we are on two feet and walking by being able to read, write, and decipher with rigor, you can run with your PBL.

    1. Hi. Thank you for your thoughtful response. I have never heard of DDL, “Delight Directed Learning.” It really sounds wonderful and also something people are calling Genius Hour in schools now. I am choosing to do project based learning because we are reading The One and Only Ivan as a class novel. While we need to answer comprehension questions and make inferences about what we are reading, we also are completing character studies on all of the various characters. Since we believe in teaching empathy in my school, I thought this book presented an opportunity to wonder about when it is ok to capture and cage animals and when we thought it wasn’t ok. I would like my students to be able to think critically and deeply about what they do. Project based learning also allows the opportunity to self-direct their own learning within a broad topic. Although I presented the driving question, students came up with a “Need to Know List” of questions in order to answer the driving question. They then choose a question, or set of questions, they would like to focus on and begin to research. Many opportunities to teach skills are also embedded in this process.

      Animals are also very appealing and motivating to 5th graders to learn about. I am working closely with my librarian who has been able to teach many skills within the area of information literacy. I want to make sure that you know I am not only presenting one side. There are and will be many opportunities for my students to research both sides. That is why we are doing this project. We will be Skyping with experts for that very reason.

      Lastly, I believe a lot of research has gone into learning about what works in education and what doesn’t. And, if you haven’t noticed, the old way of teaching isn’t working. I would love to hear about your experience in the classroom as a teacher and the research you yourself have done investigating the appropriate methods that work. I will look forward to your reply. Again, thanks for your response. 🙂

  3. I’m assuming that you are thinking that “the old way of teaching” is sit and get, thus making the new way of teaching PBL. Correct me if I’m wrong about that. It is my opinion that this type of generalizing is what takes us down the wrong path in public education. A good idea is taken, “Children aren’t learning with the same modalities, therefore we must come up with new ways to engage them in their learning.” I whole-heartedly agree with that statement. “Technology is a good way to engage them.” Again, I agree. But a whole lot of very rich and powerful people have turned these ideas into a money making, data mining, all or nothing venture. They hold expensive conferences facilitated by expensive consultants to “brainwash” the teacher, the school-board member, the parent, the taxpayer, and the principal. I could go on with this well researched and well documented information, but I’d like to continue our conversation on PBL, one of the big pushes of these expensive consultants, Phillip Schlechty of The WOW Academy, Keith Sockwell of N2 Learning and Cambridge Services to name a few.

    One of my particular concerns about PBL comes out of my recent experience as a 5th grade language arts teacher in a very poor, mostly rural community. I taught in the regular classroom for 5 years, and for the last 4 years I have held the position of dyslexia interventionist. I taught in a school with approximately 900 fifth and sixth graders. If I had to make a guess, I would say that at least 50% of those students are either poor or non-readers. I’m not looking at test scores. We managed to stay in the “passing” zone. I’m talking about listening to these kids read on a daily basis and having remarkable success with the few that I was allowed to teach. I’m also going off what other teachers report and what my own children have told me about how kids read in class.

    One of the trends I’ve observed with the PBL is that children often are not held accountable for any reading at all. The teacher does either read alouds or books on CDs. In theory this is a marvelous idea, but practically it allows the slow or non-reader to never have to read. Many fifth grade teachers have been taught in college (and there are a lot of new teachers) that by fifth grade students are reading to learn. They are not trained to notice when a child is getting by through listening to others read while never learning to read themselves. Also, for the past ten years the trend has been to “push through” the struggling readers during K-2 hoping they will somehow manage because by golly there is no money to get them the interventions they need. (At least at my school anyway.) I could go on, but this general climate creates a lot of dropouts on the other end and a lot of kids going to college with the minimum ability to function on entry-level courses.

    As for research, in my studies to become a dyslexia therapist I learned that the field of neuroscience and the plasticity of the brain have made tremendous strides in the last 10 years. A recent email I received stated, “Norman Doidge, M.D., discusses why the concept of brain plasticity—the brain’s ability to grow and change in structure and function in response to experience—is “the most important change in our understanding of the brain in 400 years.” One of the books that I read when preparing for my CALT certification was The Voice of Evidence in Reading Research by Peggy McCardle Ph.D. MPH (Editor), Vinita Chhabra M.Ed. This book was published in 2004. It highlighted the difficulty that exist in actually researching what works due lack of a “scientific” or “controlled” environment in which to conduct true research. But they attempted it anyway and document their results. It’s an interesting read.

    It is my belief that the modern education movement has totally ignored this research for the most part. There is a bias that says, “That looks too much like phonics, so we’ll have none of that please.” While Jeb Bush is in bed with all the “money makers,” Florida has been a pioneer in pushing the current research based methods in reading. The Florida Center for Reading Research, and the material available should be used in every college methods course across America. No one seems to want to admit that some of what was done in the past was good and worked for the majority of students. In an effort to continue to move forward (and make money) public education has generally jumped from trend to trend. I see them changing the rhetoric and jargon every seven years or so. In my opinion, changing the dialogue helps to keep them looking like the experts. Even though they continue to fail, by the time everyone learns that the emperor has no clothes; the emperor changes the names of his clothes and continues to parade around naked.

    1. I am doing some research on the late Phillip Schlechty. I can’t find a lot about him that gives any details. I do understand the training that is provided is very expensive, too expensive in fact. And it seems to develop an “attitude” in those who embrace it.

  4. Hi. Let me begin by saying that I do not think PBL should be taught all day everyday. I do believe it is one method that is wonderful for teaching skills and content in a meaningful and motivating way to students. My background is as a special education teacher as well as an Orton-Gillingham tutor, which I did for many years. PBL has proven to be a wonderful method for differentiation in the classroom. In addition, I teach at an independent school that allows me to practice the craft of teaching without the constraints of trying the “newest method” out there that someone has espoused to be the next best thing. I also do not have to give regular standardized tests. Often, this forces many teachers to teach in a “canned” way, treating students not as unique individuals with unique family situations, but rather like little cans of tuna all from the same shelf. I am lucky enough to work in a school community that believes there is that of the light of God in everyone. We believe each individual needs to find and speak their own truth. We believe in treating the whole child– the spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and physical. PBL, in my opinion, is a wonderful teaching method that allows for all of this to happen.

  5. Very well. I should have inferred that your school is independent (private?) based on the fact that you are allowed to teach novels. It is frowned upon in public education, as selective info pieces are becoming the norm. Perhaps we could email each other to further the conversation.

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