PBL with Year 2, Project 3: A Review Website

Year Two’s final project for the year was centred around the review and response text types. Like many schools in NSW, we spend several weeks each term focusing on specific text types from the NSW English Syllabus. New syllabi to support the Australian Curriculum will be implemented next year and I expect that our approach to writing will change, but, in the final term of 2013, we were still obliged to continue on as we had been doing.

We wanted to use a Project Based Learning approach to bring a real purpose and authenticity to the work our students would be doing. We also wanted to gain experience in  incorporating multi-modal texts as these need to be treated quite considerably in the new syllabus that we will implement in 2014.

When our team started planning, it was initially quite hard to think of a good project, but as our discussion moved on, things started to fall into place. The ideas began flowing when we considered how we as adults use reviews in our own lives. We realised that of course, we use them all the time when finding out about movies we’d like to see, restaurants we want to visit, products we like to buy and so forth. In fact, they are one of the most useful text types because they help us to make good decisions about how to spend our time and money. We also realised in our discussion that usually when we as adults look for reviews, we either watch them on TV or search for them on the net.

At this point, the project we would work on with our classes became obvious: we would have each class create a website containing video and written reviews. The reviews would be of activities that they enjoy doing over summer and it would be a resource to help each other make good choices about how to spend their time. This ticked all the boxes for us. We would use multi-model texts such as television review shows and websites for our modelled texts. It would allow our students plenty of choice in terms of what they chose to review, and it would allow them to work creatively in teams. They would still have to satisfy the writing requirements of the text type, by writing a well constructed blog post to accompany each video. As a further bonus, it would give us a meaningful purpose for using the iPads which had just arrived in our school. We were excited to have them, but still getting our heads around how to incorporate them into our teaching and learning program.

Project 3: A Review Website

Duration: 9 weeks

Driving Question: How can we make good choices about what we read, watch and do? How can we help others to make good choices?

Public Audience:  A world audience, but a target audience of other Y2 classes, friends and families.

Significant Content: As we planned this unit, we realised it covered content from just about every area of the new English syllabus. These were the outcomes we identified.

English K-10

  • EN11A communicates with a range of people in informal and guided activities demonstrating interaction skills and considers how own communication is adjusted in different situations
  • EN12A plans, composes and reviews a small range of simple texts for a variety of purposes on familiar topics for known readers and viewers
  • EN13A composes texts using letters of consistent size and slope and uses digital technologies
  • EN14A draws on an increasing range of skills and strategies to fluently read, view and comprehend a range of texts on less familiar topics in different media and technologies
  • EN16B recognises a range of purposes and audiences for spoken language and recognises organisational patterns and features of predictable spoken texts
EN17B identifies how language use in their own writing differs according to their purpose, audience and subject matter

EN18B recognises that there are different kinds of texts when reading and viewing and shows an awareness of purpose, audience and subject matter

EN19B uses basic grammatical features, punctuation conventions and vocabulary appropriate to the type of text when responding to and composing texts

EN110C thinks imaginatively and creatively about familiar topics, ideas and texts when responding to and composing texts

EN111D responds to and composes a range of texts about familiar aspects of the world and their own experiences

EN112E identifies and discusses aspects of their own and others’ learning

What we did:

I introduced the driving question right at the start of the unit, and then looked at some review websites with our classes. I chose to use Good Game SP as our exemplar text.  After watching some video reviews we made a list of features that were common to each one:

  • Title
  • Summarised the story
  • Discussed good and bad elements
  • Recommended an audience
  • Provided a rating
  • Were supported by a written blog

These became the essential elements that the students would include in their reviews.

We also noted the features that made the videos good to watch. Some of the features we identified included:

  • Humour
  • Interesting and varied camera angles
  • Vocal expression

I then asked the class to brainstorm some possible topics for our reviews. Many wanted to review video games, since that was the model they had observed, but eventually our list grew to include indoor and outdoor games, craft activities and books. A number of students were desperate to review different types of pets. I was reluctant at first, because I didn’t think it really suited our topic of choosing activities for the summer holidays. However,  in the end I relented as they explained it would help other children decide if they wanted to get a similar pet themselves.

We spent the next couple of weeks working on written book reviews. I explained that they needed to understand how to structure their writing so that when it came to writing their blog posts, they would be able to post something that was well written and that they could be proud of. The upcoming project gave a sense of urgency to this task and I found my students were very engaged and tried hard to improve their writing, responding well to critical feedback. To give the writing exercises an even greater sense of purpose, we used school library books as our subjects. Each student had to write a  review of a library book which would be kept in our library to help other children choose a good book.

We also spent some time familiarising ourselves with the iPads and iMovie. While most of my students had used iPads before, none of them had used iMovie. We spent time making book trailers and reviews of parts of our school. For the students, there was no risk of failure in this activity. They weren’t being evaluated at all, it was just about exploring and figuring out what works well.

We learned all sorts of things by having a few weeks to just explore and experiment with iMovie. We discovered that if you put your hand over the microphone it muffles the sound. We also learned that if you stand too far away from the iPad, the microphone doesn’t pick up your voice. After viewing several student movies, we discovered that shorter clips worked better than long takes, and that if the movie involved someone just talking to the camera, it was more interesting to watch if the talk was broken up, perhaps by providing different backgrounds or camera angles. We discovered how to use subtitles, background music and voice overs, and we also discovered that if not used well, these could be very distracting and ruin, rather than improve the movie. And we learned to be aware of what was happening in the background. Images of other groups of children making movies or playing sport in the distance was distracting.

While initially, I wanted the final assessment pieces to be made in groups, I ended up having each student write their own review individually, but they had to create the video in a group. After each student submitted a well constructed written review, and I had checked it, they then had to plan their video by creating a story board. Each frame in the story board had to show what the camera would film, as well as the script, and any subtitles, music or voice over information.

Once I had checked these, they were free to make their movies. At this point, I became redundant. My students had developed enough know-how to work on their films completely independently and the final products were often a complete surprise to me. My role became that of a facilitator. I’d assist students who weren’t sure how to edit part of their movie, and answer questions here and there, but for the most part, the students did all the work while I supported and encouraged them.


I started encountering problems when I tried to upload videos to the website. I’d created a new blog for the project using the Edublogs platform and had the students choose the design and the name. But with 3 weeks to go before the end of the term our videos wouldn’t upload. At first I thought it might have had something to do with the file type, so instead of trying to upload again, I created a Vimeo account from which I could embed the videos. That in itself took time. Creating the account required an email account, so I had to create a class Gmail as well. After taking a few days to sort all that out and uploading my first few videos to Vimeo, they still wouldn’t embed on the website. This, I eventually discovered was because I needed a Pro account with Edublogs, which annoyed me as I already had a Pro account for my class blog. I assumed, wrongly, that would cover any blogs I created.

With one week left, I finally bit the bullet and paid for a Pro account. Now that I was able to embed videos, I started to upload the rest of them to Vimeo, but I hit another obstacle: my free Vimeo account would only allow me to upload a limited number of videos each week and I reached that limit before I’d uploaded even half of the class’s videos.

However, at least, by the end of the year, we had a number of their video and blog posts published.

Here is an example of one I was really pleased with. I love the different camera angles, the use of titles and the vocal expression.

I’ll be updating the site with the rest of their videos and posts over the holidays. You can find our website here.


All in all, I thought the project was a great success. The quality of their written reviews for the website was not nearly as high as the quality of their written reviews for our school library, but given the fact that their library reviews were so good, I was still pleased with the outcomes of the writing program.

I was delighted with the videos they made. These were entirely the students’ own work and they’d made so much progress. They were thinking critically about their movies, constantly editing and improving them until they had a product of which they were proud.

If I was to do this again, however, I wouldn’t use Edublogs as a platform. It was frustrating to have to pay for features which come for free on other platforms such as Weebly and WordPress. My colleague, Joel was very happy with using Weebly for his class project. You can visit 2A’s review website here.

This is the fourth in my series on Project Based Learning. For more,visit my Project Based Learning page or view the articles below.

Related articles


Life Lessons from a Classroom in India

The article that follows, from Teachers of India, struck a chord with me today. I stumbled across it because the author had kindly linked to an article I wrote about promoting reading in the classroom.

Teachers of India – The Reading Corner

The first thing that made an impact was the low-tech but excellent strategies. The school, in an area of Northern India with high levels of poverty, was encouraging reading by setting up a reading corner. They’d encourage community members to clip stories that were interesting and pin them to the board.

This whole practice helped the children develop a habit of reading, sharing information and becoming aware. It also enabled children to get familiarized with the way news was written in the print media. The focus, though was more on general knowledge rather than just the news. The activity created an interest and awareness among both teachers and students.

Sometimes, in our first world rush to bring the latest innovations in technology into our classrooms, I think we forget these simple but important strategies.  However, with or without technology, the practice of finding information that interests us and  sharing  it with each other is a very 21st century skill. 21st century capabilities are being encouraged and taught well in this school.

The second part of the article that made an impact on me was the story of the girl who copies out stories from classroom books after school.

She is writing down the whole story because she has younger siblings at home who like to listen to stories. Her family doesn’t have access to books, so by copying the whole story she gets to read it out aloud and share it with them!

Meanwhile, in the community I work, where our students have an endless supply of books as well as online texts, I wonder how often they share their favourite stories with their family or friends. Reading is often a solitary rather than a shared experience. I love the simple act of caring and generosity expressed by this student, who gives up her time in the afternoons so that she can bring stories home to share with her siblings.

It makes me wonder if, living in such a prosperous community, we sometimes lose sight of the value of what’s in front of us.

With a new year coming up in two days perhaps its time to think about some resolutions. I have two in mind after reading this article.

1. Share generously and often.

2. Slow down, take stock and start appreciating all that I have.

PBL with Year 2, Project 2: Improving our Playground

One of my goals for 2013 was to use Project Based Learning as a strategy to bring about greater student engagement by making learning more meaningful and authentic. Together with my team of Year Two teachers, we developed four projects for our classes. Our first project was a school fair which I wrote about here.

After the success of that project, I was eager to move forward and develop a larger project for Term 2.  We decided to use the NSW HSIE syllabus as our starting point.

The unit we developed touched on outcomes in all four strands:  Social Systems and Structures, Change and Continuity,  Cultures and Environments, but had a particular emphasis on Environments. We decided to use our school playground as a focus and develop the idea of custodianship, with students developing plans to  improve our grounds and make them more amenable for current and future students.

Project 2: Improving our Playground

Duration: 8 Weeks

Driving Question: How can we improve the amenity of our playground?

Public Audience: Current and future users of the school grounds

Significant Content:

Our planned outcomes and indicators came from the Environments strand of the NSW HSIE syllabus.

ENS1.5 Compares and contrasts natural and built features in their local area and the ways in which people interact with these features.
ENS1.6 Demonstrates an understanding of the relationship between environments and people

Students will

  • identify differences between natural and built features of the school playground
  • categorise places in the school grounds: where people work, eat, play, are active or passive, animal habitats etc.
  • express an awareness of how the school grounds exist within a broader context: e.g as a natural habitat and as a community facility.
  • recognise Aboriginal people’s’ special relationship with the school grounds
  • identify ways in which the school environment has changed and is continuing to change
  • suggest ways of caring for the school environment and ways in which they can contribute
  • identify an aspect of the school environment which can be easily improved, make a simple plan to improve it, and carry out that plan.
  • Reflect on the effectiveness of the improvement projects and devise a strategy for long-term, sustained improvement.

However, as the project progressed, content from other Key Learning Areas was also included. My students were involved in measuring and drawing birds-eye view plans of areas of our playground and wrote expositions to support their proposals.

What we did:

Introducing the Project:

To begin, I took my class on a tour of the school grounds, they brought with them clipboards, paper and pencils and stopping in various areas made a mind map. The centre of each mind map contained the words “Our School” and branches growing out from the centre included prompts such as I see, I hear, I feel, I like, I don’t like.

We brought the mind maps back into the classroom, and using butchers paper and post it notes, created a class version that contained everyone’s ideas.


After compiling the mind map, I explained to the students that they would be spending the term learning about the school grounds and be put in charge of running some projects to make them even better.

As a reflection I asked students to think of up to 3 improvements they would like to make in the school playground and to briefly write about these.

Providing a context:

Before moving any further with the projects I wanted to develop some contextual knowledge for my students. We spent the next two weeks developing an understanding of our land’s heritage and the notion of custodianship.

1. Heritage

Over a number of days, I shared the book ‘My Place‘ by Nadia Wheatley which was written to celebrate Australian’s bicentenary in 1988. Each page contains a story of children living in Sydney and it goes back in time, with a new story for each decade. The children live on the same land and often in the same house, so as the book moves back through time the history of Sydney is revealed. It takes us all the way back to the Aboriginal owners of the land.

Using the book as a stimulus, I asked my students to consider how our school land had changed over time what changes had they observed recently and what changes would have occurred over time all the way back to  1788?

We also considered who owns our land?  We talked about the original owners and why it is important we acknowledge them, and we talked about what we have inherited from the lands original owners.

I then moved the discussion on to speculate about how our land might be used in the future and what changes, good or bad, might occur.

2. Custodianship

To introduce the notion  of custodianship, I shared the book ‘Belonging’ by Jeannie Baker. It has a similar theme to ‘My Place’, but in this case, each page moves us forward through time.  The book begins with a view through a window across a very desolate, urban landscape with pollution, graffiti and rubbish. As the book moves through time, you can see the environment being restored: trees are planted, a park is created, murals are painted on walls. By the end of the book, the view is of a thriving and cheerful urban community. It has an empowering message showing how people can make a difference to the world around them.

After discussing the book, we talked about our school land.  I introduced the term ‘stakeholder; and we brainstormed the different community uses of our land. We also considered the different wildlife that make our school grounds their home.

I then  introduced the word ‘custodians’ and we discussed how we could be good custodians of our land.

Planning the project

In week 4, we were ready to begin planning our project:

Defining amenity, I introduced the driving question: How can we improve the amenity of our playground?

In a shady corner of the grounds with some tall gum trees and a sandpit, students observed and explored, discussing what they liked, what worked well, and what might be improved.

Back in the classroom we discussed their ideas. With out exception, the students all decided that our sand pit was not working well at all, and needed an overhaul. (Isn’t it great when you get the results from the discussion you were hoping for!)

We decided to make improving the amenity of our sandpit our focus, and the students made various suggestions, some more realistic than others for how we might do that.

Over the following weeks we started to make our plan. We returned to the sandpit and tested it out.

A number of my students were actually repelled when I suggested they might play in it. They didn’t want to because the sand was dirty and full of leaves and twigs.  Those who were brave enough to venture in started to dig, but after only a few centimetres, met hard ground. While they were exploring the sandpit, a group of students managed to excavate a little wooden bridge: it turned out we didn’t have one sandpit, but two divided by the bridge.

This experience made for  a great discussion. It was obvious that we needed to do something about the shallow, dirty sand. Proposals included buying new sand, but other students worried that it would just wash out of the sand pit again in a down pour. Some suggested building a roof over the top of the sandpit to stop the twigs and leaves falling into it, others suggested cutting down the trees that surround it.  A few observed that part of the problem was some of the sands stone rocks that formed an edge around the sandpit had been removed, or large gaps between them where children had dug tunnels. This was causing the sand to wash out.

Bringing in the expert

Not having any landscaping experience myself, it was time to bring in an expert.  I recruited the help of a landscape architect, Paul, who used to have children at our school, and had been responsible for a lot of our grounds work in the past. He now works for us one day per week as a general assistant.

We needed to wait a couple of weeks before Paul was available to help us. In the meantime, my students drew plans of the sandpit area and wrote expositions giving reasons to support their various proposals for change.

When Paul was finally available, we were running out of time. There were only two weeks of term left. We returned to the sand pit with Paul and he put my students to work, using trundle wheels and tape measures to provide measurements that he put into an architectural plan for us. The students explained their suggestions and he advised on the viability of the various plans. In the end, we decided that we needed to redesign the sandpit to make it slightly larger and deeper.  Paul advised that a wooden edge would be best, made out of recycled timber.  He also recommended removal of a couple of smaller shrubs. We would need to buy new sand, get a sandpit cover, and, if money permitted, some sandpit toys to help make the area more fun.

Now that we had our plan, we needed to make it happen, and that was going to be the focus of our Term 3 PBL which would focus on how we could raise funds to pay for the work and supplies that were needed.  My students were very excited by this proposition and started coming up with fundraising ideas such as lemonade stands in their front yards or making thousands of origami cranes to sell.

Abandoning the Project

Unfortunately none of the fundraising plans came to fruition. Our school principal went on leave in Term 3, so I spent most of the first half of term off class as relieving principal. I felt the project was really too big for the casual teacher who took over my class to take on, and I was so busy with principal work that I couldn’t continue it in the background.

Then, I had an intern take over my class for the second half of term. (I did very little teaching at all in Term 3). My intern had almost full-time responsibility for the class and  some specific course requirements to complete.  She wasn’t confident taking this on and I didn’t want to push her. PBL was my professional goal but it didn’t have to be hers, and she was working hard just coming to terms with day-to-day teaching and classroom management.

I also realised, that as much as I wanted to run a fundraiser with my class, there were already several fundraising events happening at my school during the term and the community was feeling quite fatigued by all the requests for money. I’d considered the idea of putting on a fair, similar to the one we ran in Term 1, however our Year 6 students were already planning a similar event to raise money for their farewell gift to the school.

And so, reluctantly, I abandoned that project. It just wasn’t feasible to pursue it in Term 4.


Even though we didn’t get to put our plans into action, I was still very pleased with the learning that occurred. My students were engaging in critical thinking and real life problem solving. They also developed a sense of social responsibility, considering the impact  on all stakeholders when planning for change. They demonstrated the understandings I was targeting in the Environments strand of HSIE, looking at the relationships and interactions between people and the environment.

Their exposition writing was excellent. They were able to clearly articulate their reasons for improving the sandpit with great supporting arguments. And I loved seeing them have an authentic purpose for their mapping and measurement skills in maths.

I learned that it is possible to take on too much and that I need to plan far more carefully. I was so in love with the idea of this project that I didn’t consider all the logistical issues. With more planning, I think we could have pulled this off. I had always expected that we would need to fundraise for whatever improvement we decided to make, and I had mentioned that to my principal, however I really needed to discuss it with her in more depth and put the fundraiser into our calendar for Term 3.  I think if I had done that, we would have been able to move forward.

But I haven’t given up on this project. If possible, I’d still like to follow up with the same group of students in 2014 and organise that fundraiser so we can see our sandpit come back to life.

This is the third in my series on Project Based Learning. For more,visit my Project Based Learning page or view the articles below.

PBL with Year 2 Project 1: A School Fair

Our first attempt at Project Based Learning with Year 2 was a short project which took around 2-3 weeks.  To describe this project, I’m going to use each of the essential elements of project based learning from this diagram courtesy of the Buck Institute.


Project 1: A School Fair  

Duration: 2-3 weeks.

Background: We wanted to find a way to help our students connect the mathematics they were learning to their real world.  One of my colleagues sourced a maths text-book series, iMaths, which takes an inquiry approach to teaching maths. The project we developed was based on their unit of work for Year Two called Show Time which culminated in students planning a budget and a schedule for an imaginary visit to the Royal Sydney Easter Show.  We took the idea a step further and worked with Year Three to create a real fair to be held on the school grounds, where a real budget and a real schedule would be required.

The Year Two students were each given $20 in play money, and the Year Three students were provided with plenty of play money for change. The products however, ended up being real, with the Year Three students and their families exceeding themselves in their creativity and generosity. For $20 of play money, our Year Two students enjoyed real games and performances, and walked away with bags stuffed with lollies, cupcakes and other products.

Public Audience:

The audience for this project was the approximately 150 Year Two and Three students who participated, along with their teachers, family members and other members of the community who saw the excitement and came along to watch.

In Depth Inquiry:

Year Three students needed to ask questions and consider what would make a fair fun and appealing to students. They needed to work creatively to come up with a successful product.

Year Two students needed to consider what the best use of their money would be when setting a budget. They found this process difficult, not wanting to sacrifice one thing for another. Eventually they all planned personal budgets and were able to justify their choices of what to include and what to leave out.

Driving Question:

Year Three – How can we run a fair on the school grounds with products, events and performances that will appeal to year 2 students.

Year Two – How can we plan a day at the fair, with a budget of $20 to buy products and participate in events, that will still leave us with $3  to buy a ticket for the show at the end of the day

Need to Know/Voice and Choice

Year Three – To run the  fair, the Year 3 students needed to know what a fair was. They studied the Royal Sydney Easter Show and considered the different components that kids enjoyed. Their list included animal displays, the rides, show bags, performances and food.

Voice and Choice was allowed as each group of Year Three students decided on a stall to run.

Their ideas were brilliant. Some of the highlights were:

  • A petting zoo, where a small group of students brought in their rabbits and guinea pigs. The Year 2s could buy a ticket to enter the ‘zoo’ stroke the animals and feed them carrots.
  • A shooting gallery, where students could fire nerf guns at paper targets taped to a brick wall. There were lolly prizes for each target hit.
  • The show bag stall – where students packed paper bags full of hand made book marks, fairy wands, lollies, and other delights.

Image 28-12-13 at 6.16 PM

Year 3 also needed to know about persuasive writing and advertising so that they could create appealing advertisements for their stalls, and depending on the stall they chose to run, they needed to use a range of skills in creative arts, physical education, science, mathematics and English.

Year 2 – To visit the fair, Year Two needed to know about Australian currency, add amounts of currency and plan a budget, as they were required to have $3 left at the end of the fair to see a performance that the Year 3 students had planned for them. They also needed to read time and plan their timetable, as certain events were only happening at particular times. They needed to plan carefully to ensure they didn’t miss the events they wanted to visit.

Revision and Reflection

This was the part of the project that I don’t think we did well, probably because we threw it together in a rush at the end of the term. Instead of having opportunities for revision and reflection throughout the development of the projects, our revision and reflection took place during the fair and then again following the fair. Some of the Year Threes worked out that their stalls weren’t well located or appealing, so throughout the morning they made changes and in some cases moved. They also tried new strategies, such as spruiking to attract business.

Many of the Year Twos spent all their money too quickly, or didn’t visit many stalls because they were hanging on to their cash leaving some Year Threes standing rather forlornly at their empty stalls. Seeing this, we quickly changed the rules and, when students had run out of money, we gave them more. The idea of sticking to a budget was abandoned, however we thought this sacrifice was worth it, as it allowed the students to visit more of the stalls that the Year Threes had put so much work into creating.

Significant Content:

Year Three –  calculating change, persuasive writing and, depending on the part of the fair each student ran, various creative arts, science, sport and other concepts.

Year Two – reading a timetable, adding amounts of money, working within a budget of $20

21st Century Skills:

To work successfully students needed to:

  • Work collaboratively with other students, clearly communicating their ideas and listening to the ideas of others.
  • Think creatively, make decisions and solve problems.
  • We didn’t use technology at all in this project, other than to look at the website for the Royal Sydney Easter Show, but  while that’s certainly encouraged in PBL, I don’t think our project was diminished by its absence.


The fair was and continues to be a highlight of the year for me. The success of the fair was astounding, with such great creativity and team work from the Year Three students. I loved that it gave them a real purpose for using their maths skills. One of our students, who had always struggled with and was normally quite disengaged in maths activities, became obsessed with finding change. He took over one of the registers and spent around an hour happily calculating change for students, practicing and refining his calculation skills. It challenged him, but he loved it and was reluctant to let go of the role when the fair came to an end.

The project certainly didn’t take the place of more traditional forms of instruction. We still needed to take the time to teach money very explicitly, giving students lots of opportunities to practice adding amounts and calculating change. However, the fair showed the students the relevance of this skill. Instead of simply working with money to complete class activities, or to play class games, the students were given a powerful and exciting reason to work with money and the learning experience became much more authentic.

If I was to do this again, I wouldn’t change much. We’d need to re-think how we used the budget as it limited the stalls the students could visit and we ended up abandoning it. However, I liked the concept. It created an urgency for the students. They had to think very critically and consider how they could get the best value for their money. That made it really worthwhile.

This is the second post in my series on Project Based Learning. To see the first post, click here, or visit my Project Based Learning page.


Year in Review: Project Based Learning with Year Two

One of my goals for 2013 was to maximise student engagement by making learning more meaningful and authentic for my students. I wanted their classroom work to have a real relevance to their lives. This can be difficult with young students who often don’t see the bigger picture. My Year 2s are  more than happy to learn concepts and complete tasks to please their teacher, but I wanted them to move beyond that.

Project Based Learning (PBL) looked like the perfect pedagogy for this purpose. Instead of  students learning a range of disconnected concepts and skills, PBL provides a real purpose that drives and connects that learning. For a great explanation of Project Based Learning go to  http://www.bie.org/about/what_is_pbl

Over the year, my Year Two team and I developed four project based learning units for our classes. None of them turned out quite the way I anticipated, but the learning along the way for both our students and ourselves was valuable.

In terms of achieving the original goal, which was to maximise engagement by providing real and authentic purpose for learning, I believe we were successful. There are things I would do differently if I could attempt those projects again. Some things didn’t work at all, however, after a year of using PBL with my class, I have to say I’m a convert. I love the way the approach engages and empowers students.

This Diagram from the Buck Institute of Learning shows the essential elements of PBL. As I describe each of our projects, I’ll explain how they fit the different elements.


I’ll outline each project over  the next few posts, starting with Project 1. A School Fair.

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A Christmas Treat for You – My Great Grandmother’s Christmas Pudding Recipe

This blog is supposed to be about teaching, but it’s Christmas, so I thought I’d share this treat with you.

My great grandmother handed this recipe down to my grandmother. She shared it with my mother and now its been handed on to me. I’m not sure how old it is – it may well have been handed down by generations of women in my family prior to my great grandmother. Each year when I make it, I feel connected to a long line of women in my family – it’s a pretty amazing feeling.
Sometimes I’m tempted to try something new, but I always come back to this. It’s been modified along the way and the recipe I use now is my mother’s adaptation where we use a prepared suet mix rather than using raw beef fat. One year, I couldn’t find any suet so I did some research and substituted it with grated copha of all things. It tasted surprisingly good and somewhat lighter than the usual mix. However, usually I stick with tradition. It’s Christmas after all.

Great Grandma Compston’s Christmas Pudding

Makes 2-3 puddings

8oz suet ( I use Tandanco Suet Mix)

4 oz plain flour

8 oz brown sugar

8 oz chopped almonds

8 oz mixed peel

8 oz raisins

1/2 oz nutmeg

1 oz mixed spice

1/2 granny smith apple (diced)

grated rind of 1 lemon and 1 orange

6 eggs

1/4 pint of brandy (or rum/port/black tea)


Beat the eggs and add the brandy to them

Blend the eggs and brandy mixture with the other ingredients.

Put the mixture into a prepared pudding cloth. (To prepare cloth: Boil for 20 minutes, wring out and sprinkle heavily with flour)

Tie it tightly and lower gently into rapidly boiling water.

Boil for 5-6 hours. (Do not allow the puddings to go off the boil and add boiling water when the pan needs replenishing)

Remove the puddings from the cloth, cool, wrap in foil and store in the fridge. (We used to let ours hang in the cloths, but after moving to Sydney we found the humid air caused the cloths to grow mildew)


On the day of use  replace it in a washed, dry pudding cloth and boil for three hours.

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How Professional Associations Support Teachers, a look inside the ETA

Our latest edition of the Teachers Education Review focuses on the role of professional associations for supporting and developing teachers. In this 2 part special, Cameron reports from inside the 2013 NSW English Teachers’ Association Annual Conference held on 22-23 November at the University of New South Wales. In part one, Cameron interviews the very inspiring president of the ETA, Karen Yager, and we also hear from Dan Haesler in his second edition of “Off Campus” where he discusses PISA and politics.

In part 2, interviews include Treasurer Susan Gazis, Executive Officer Eva Gold, Journal Editor Mel Dixon & Assistant Editor Stefanie Lia, VOX Pops, and discussions about Transmedia Narratives and the NSW English Studies course.

For more podcasts check out the Teachers Education Review Website or my Podcasts page.