Caine’s Arcade Style: Project Based Learning

We have been doing a lot of learning this year that is different than I would have imagined if you would have asked me 17 months ago. My teaching colleague, Gallit Zvi and I embarked on our own journey of discovery to team teach 2 classes of grade 6/7 students.   When we started we were nervous but excited to start.  We didn’t know where it was going to take us because we were constantly learning new things on twitter that we could adapt, collaborate on, and make our own.  We did know that we both wanted to jump into a project based model for student learning because we knew we could model a collaborative environment necessary to make it successful for our students.  However we didn’t know where and how to start.  We saw ourselves as guides through unique learning experiences that connect learning in the classroom to their lives outside of the classroom.  We were just looking for that sign on which direction we should help guide them towards.


This past summer our eyes were opened wide by a number different blog and twitter posts about the value of project based learning and the magic that is involved with connecting student’s learning across the curriculum and to life outside of the classroom.  Shelley Wright and others discuss this often on their blogs and websites.  Shelley, in November 2012 spoke passionately at the Surrey School District‘s Engaging the Digital Learner Dinner Series.   She spoke about the power of project based learning and  shared her journey from a teacher in a teacher-centred learning environment to a guide in a student-centred learning environment.   Inspiring examples of engaged students making a difference in their learning and the lives of people in their community rang throughout the hall and into the hearts of the 400 plus educators in attendance that night.  Gallit and I knew we had to take action and move forward!

We started integrating learning outcomes for students across different subject areas and streams within those subject areas.   One of our projects this year was our Caine’s Arcade inspired Math Project based on 9 year-old Caine’s Cardboard Arcade featured in this video.

To be honest we were nervous to start because neither of us had ever really done a Math based project before.

Prior to this year Gallit and I taught the majority of our Math separately from the other subject areas.  We taught it through textbook, manipulatives, worksheets, problem of the weeks, big 5s, quizzes, etcetera.  However the use of manipulatives did not occur as much as we would have liked.  It was what we knew, how we were taught, and what we were comfortable with.  For us to move to a model of student- centred discovery model from a more teacher driven model was nerve wracking and exciting all at the same time.  Check out a quick glimpse into our learning below in our fun and inspiring movie trailer.  This is the first time I used the iMovie app to make a trailer of our learning and loved every second of it.  Gallit and I can see us doing the same thing in the future with our students using this digital story telling idea to share their own learning journey in an engaging way.  Enjoy!

We wanted our students to demonstrate their learning through collaborative hands on experiences during Math learning times and then have them independently be able to explain it according to a 4 point rubric that we helped guide individual groups to create.  Our Cardboard Journey had begun!  Although the students learning outcomes for the project were the same how each group chose to demonstrate it was different.  A fully meeting expectations for one group looked different than another group. We soon began to realize they were incorporating their own creative touches to their projects to make it their own.  Soon students were asking for brushes, paint, scissors, balls, buckets, and we were happy to oblige to assist in making it happen for them.  It was organized chaos in its finest form.  Students were excited about their ideas.  Most students were focussed and listened to the person or persons who designated themselves as the conscience(s) of the group in order to ensure what they were doing was attempting to meet the learning outcomes introduced to them.

Was our Math Arcade time smooth?  No…  Were we always comfortable with it?  No…  Was it Messy?  Yes!! Was it fun? … Yes!! Was it engaging? … Yes!! … Were our students learning what we intended them to learn? … Yes and no!

We expected students to gel together as a group, embrace themselves as learners and check off each learning outcome as soon as they felt they could fully meet the learning outcome.  We modelled checking for understanding of the learning outcomes in the project and how to question their learning in terms of knowing how they could explain and demonstrate to others.

brand_newHowever our assumption that we could have the students fully demonstrate their learning on all the learning outcomes we had outlined for them was a stretch on our part.  Some students still struggled with explaining how their project relates to angles, probabilities, fractions, etc.  We did discover that students who were strong math students adapted and continued to be strong math students.  The difference being they were learning, being curious, and asking questions alongside those who struggled with math.  This was a big change.  Learning was happening differently.  They became co-learners asking questions and discovering.  Instead of one student understanding and trying to explain it to another.  Often it was a one-sided street.  One person was asking the questions and the other person hopped into the “learning” car for the ride.  More students were attempting to be resourceful and connected learners.

Most students were asking questions and actively seeking out answers about their learning that they would never had done before when in our teacher centred model.  Although some still had difficulty with some areas of explaining their math learning, they did feel motivated to try to understand.  Isn’t that the key?  Do we all learn at the same rate?  No!  Project Based Learning provides all students with opportunities to ask questions, make connections, be curious, and learn how to be a learner.  I strongly feel this positive learning opportunity will help ease my students into seeing themselves as self-directed passionate learners of Math.  Much in the same way as our Genius Hour time does for them and their passions.  Who knows maybe we’ll see our first Math based Genius Hour project in the future.  Small steps can produce great life long learning passions.  Time will tell but I love the path we have chosen because I know our students are loving to learn and seeing how .

images-3This is why we decided to do 2 other projects with the same learning outcomes.  This way our students could have more time to connect with the learning outcomes, and we have more time to guide them to see how they relate to other facets in life.  We also decided to include writing, assessment, visual arts, and oral language learning outcomes into our Math Based Project.  Our next project will see our students become an architect of their own bedroom and integrate different streams of Math Learning Outcomes.  Using space and shape,  3-D Objects & 2-D Shapes, and Number Connection learning outcomes they will draw scale diagrams and then build it to scale in model form.


We believe that the days of “covering” a lot of learning outcomes is slowly making its way out the door of education in favour of learning opportunities for students that personalizes learning and creates increased opportunities for them to dive deeper into their learning.  How refreshing is that?  Teaching kids how to learn rather than focussing specifically on content that can be googled.  Awesome!  Thank you to everyone in my Personal Learning Network (PLN) who share their practice and help me formulate ideas that become bigger ideas.  In the words of Tony the Tiger, “You’re greaaaaaaaaaaaaat!”

I am excited for our next journey, we and are thankful for a 9 year-old boy Caine who inspired us to connect the dots and help us understand where good ideas come from and how we can foster this understanding in students.  They aren’t these big AHA moments.  They are a cumulation of ideas that meld together to form a bigger idea.  Stephen Johnson’s  Ted Talk “Where Good Ideas Come From” summarizes how our Caine’s Arcade Style: Project Based Learning Project was born from many ideas and took shape through collaborative questioning, research, and play with Gallit and the students in Divisions 3 and 4.

What was your learning journey into project based learning?  How did your ideas take shape and inspire the eventual project(s) you and your students engaged in?  I look forward to learning with you.  Thank you Gallit for joining me on this journey!


Hugh McDonald


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8 Responses to Caine’s Arcade Style: Project Based Learning

  1. Pingback: Caine's Arcade Style: Project Based Learning | Professional Learning for Busy Educators |

  2. Anne-Marie Middleton says:

    Thank you for sharing your journey of PBL that you and Gallit have done this year. It sounds like it has been worth every bump and dip in the road. Th stuents will remember their year with you as being meaningful, engaging and fun too!
    I have been bouncing the idea of PBL around in my brain this year as well but have not had the nerve or the knowledge to take that step forward. I have learned to slow down a bit and go deeper not wider with what I am doing in the class. So I think that PBL will be somethng I will coninue to think about and maybe next year will be the year. I will call on you and Gallit to help guide me.
    Thanks for once again inspiring so many us with your passion to improve learning for the kids.

  3. Pingback: The Dark Side of the Course: What Star Wars can teach us about student engagement and not paying attention in class. | : the readiness is all

  4. Jane Cougle says:

    I’ve been thinking about your comment “It was what we knew, how we were taught, and what we were comfortable with. For us to move to a model of student- centred discovery model from a more teacher driven model was nerve wracking and exciting all at the same time. Lately I find myself questioning why am I teaching this? or why am I teaching in this way? I am trying to teach with project and inquiry based learning. Finding new ways and challenging what I’m comfortable with is exhausting but so exciting. Thank you for sharing your experience, you inspire me to keep digging!

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  6. Pingback: From Gallit and Hugh #midlevt Feb Ideas | So. Consider

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