Image Map

Sunday, January 29, 2012

ReThinking Project Based Learning - Building a Radio

In the teachers' lounge early in the year I noticed someone was donating some "freebies" to any interested party. There were children's books, books for middle readers and even novels for adults.

It just so happened that this one day, there among the books, was an AM/FM Radio Kit. You know, it's the kind that you have to put together. Quickly, I snapped it up and brought it to my classroom.

The kit sat among my games and forgotten for most of the year. Just the other day I was organizing the shelves and found it again. A few students were waiting to be dismissed and asked about it. After listening to the explanation I asked if they would like to try building it together during indoor recess. Little did I know the hubbub and stir that would ensue!

Before any assembly could occur the kids realized they would need a screwdriver and started trying to decide which type was necessary. One student offered to bring one a small phillips head. Another said that wire cutters were needed but thought that maybe they could use strong scissors. The conversation about where to begin and what was needed went on until all students were dismissed for the day.

Due to the rain, the next day found the kids indoors for recess. A barrage of students approached me asking about putting together the radio. And so it began - the making of the AM/FM radio in short 15 minute bursts. It is still not completed, but the kids have not lost their enthusiasm.

This made me think about 'authentic problem solving'. These kids were learning on their own - how to organize, handle tools, read directions, classify parts, test out ideas, work together and more. Their level of interaction and engagement was high. This was a problem they wanted to solve.

Noticing the students' enthusiasm for learning makes me wonder how I can incorporate meaningful, well-focused Project Based Learning lessons in my classroom. These resources below may help.

The Power of Project Learning: On Scholastic by Wayne D'Orio

Problem Based Learning Activities: A collection of PBL activities through Mrs. O's House site.

How to Write Effective Driving Questions for PBL: on Edutopia by Andrew Miller

Resources for Project Based Learning: on Wikispaces Blog

10 Free Project Based Learning Resources: at Tech&Learning by Michael Gorman

Project Based Learning: A compilation of resources by Cybraryman

Project Based Learning Resources: by the Educational Technology Guy

Please share your favorite project based learning lessons in the comment section below!


  1. How super cool is your radio unit? LOVE it!!

    Right now we are learning all about snow and snowflakes, in a unit I call "snowology". We looked at snowflakes last week, and were able to tie in math (geometry, probability) science (liquids and solids and gas), LA (reading books about snow and winter and weather and writing projects). It has been one of the most fun theme units I have ever done.

    Btw, TAG! You're it!!

  2. Hi Nancy. Isn't it great that the kids are excited about something that has become almost a thing of the past??? Makes me wonder. Is it the adults that are so enamored with technology, that we think young folks are uninterested in making things work and the ways of the past? I don't know. You are the teacher. I will say it again though. Anyone lucky enough to be in Mrs. Carroll's class is very lucky indeed!

  3. Hi Heather -
    Actually the radio was not a unit although I think I should make it one. My brother has a bunch of old radios that I should bring into the class and let the kids take them apart and put them back together.

    Your unit on snowflakes sounds fun. There is something magical in snowflakes that makes kids want to learn. You should check out the Iditarod Dog sled race as kids can learn about weather, mushers, dogs and more ( or read my Mush blog (Feb or March of last year).

    @Carol Ann - I can't really tell you how excited these kids are to get this radio working. I am hoping that they don't lose interest as it is fairly complicated. Makes me think I should take Rich's old radios and let them go to town. How fun would that be!!! (Although I think the CB radio was the pre-cursor to skype!!).

    Also, thanks for your kind words.

  4. I am so excited that someone else shares interest in these things! When kids use there hands and there minds to create something useful it makes me smile!
    Let me know when you want more radios and things!
    Keep up the great work that you do!

  5. Hi Nancy,

    Great ideas and love the resources you share in this post!

    What are my favorite PBL lessons? I think my favorite comes from service learning. I love tapping into real needs of others, and the interests of the students. I don't know that there is a resource bank for this, but I love hearing about others going above and beyond for someone else.

    When I was in the classroom, my favorite PBL was having my students to learn about their strengths, how to use them, and understand where others are coming from too based on individual strengths. The video I have here is a bit long, but if you skip to the middle, you'll get a good sense of what the students learned about their strengths.

    Kind regards,


I welcome your comments and ideas!!

Directions for posting:

1) Choose "Choose an Identity " first. If you don't have a Google/Blogger account, you can choose Name/URL and type in your name, then place the web site that best describes you in the URL (i.e. If you do not have a URL you can leave that blank. You can also choose "Anonymous" which will leave the comment but not your name.

2) Feel free to "Preview" your comment to see what it will look like when posted.

3) Select "Post Comment" when you're ready. (Sometimes this might need to be done more than once.)

4) NOTE: Before posting a comment I will copy it, in the event there is a problem, that way I haven't lost my comment and can try to post it again.

5) Thank you Tracy Watanabe for these directions to post!

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.