Common Core

What the U.S. Presidents Taught Us About Project-Based Learning


Right now I’m grading papers that my elementary students wrote about what they learned in music class. I used to give a multiple choice test, but these one-page essays tell me a lot about what these students have learned (which is helpful when giving grades). One student wrote,

We made a song in GarageBand. It’s called U.S. Presidents. We learned about what websites we should use and if we have to give credit and learned rhythm and tempo.

Awesome, right!? The 4th/5th music standards in California are pretty dry. Actually, most content standards are pretty dry. Our textbook does not sweeten them up much. So this year, I composed songs with my music students as a way to teach them about rhythm, tempo, melody, song form, etc. In past years, I composed short pieces of music with my students, but limited the lesson to one 40-minute class period. This year, we spent four class periods working on a song, from writing lyrics and melodies to adding instrumentation and choosing a song form (chorus/verse).

After reading through what my students wrote, it’s apparent that project-based learning helped students actually learn the material. Not only did they take ownership of this song, but the content stuck. They really do understand all that stuff–eighth notes, half rests, repeats, phrasing. And it wasn’t just a more effective way to teach, it was also more enjoyable (for them and for me!).

There’s a bigger lesson that I learned, though. By working on a project, there are so many other important things that I am able to teach. We decided to create a music video to accompany each song, so I (as the music teacher) explained creative commons, giving credit, and being respectful online. This seems like an eduawesome way to teach digital citizenship. As we created the video, I could talk with them about pacing, types of shots, and telling a story visually. Suddenly, all these artistic concepts melded into one project. I’m hoping that the Common Core is going to push us in this direction. Projects seem to be a perfect fit–narrower (less content) and deeper (projects). In this one project, each music class learned about composition, digital citizenship, video editing, and their own content area, which ranged from adding fractions to human body systems. This will definitely be a project that I will be repeating next year!

Google Art Project + Common Core Math = #EduAwesome Project-Based Learning


The Google Art Project “is an initiative to provide thousands of high quality, high resolution images from museums across the globe in one place, making art’s history, meaning and beauty available in ways never possible before.” Two creative ways to leverage this in the classroom: zoom reaaaaaallly far in, and “walk” through a museum (think Google Street View).

So, that’s the Google Art Project. Let’s talk Common Core. The Common Core was made for project-based learning. Here’s a description of Common Core for Math:

require students to experiment with tools and processes, apply abstract reasoning and critical thinking, and persevere in problem solving in complex mathematical tasks. Student must be able to combine skills and processes to solve multi-step processes, and solve word and modeling problems that may have many appropriate representations and approaches.

This project idea addresses the new Common Core Math standards and uses the Google Art Project. It can easily be scaffolded for grades 3-8, it aligns with the third and eighth grade standards, and fits developmentally well with fifth grade-ish.

Take a moment and look at A Sunday on La Grande Jatte on the Google Art Project. (Don’t just look below–play with the image in the Google Art Project!)


We don’t know how many dots are in this painting. (Read: there is no correct answer.) Here are the steps I would go through with my class. You can do this in one class period, or stretch it out over a week.

  1. Look at image.
  2. Estimate how many dots there are in the entire painting (whole class).
  3. Zoom in.
  4. Zoom waaaay in.
  5. Estimate how many dots there are in the zoomed-in section (whole class).
  6. Break into teams of four. Devise a strategy for figuring out how many dots this painting has.
  7. As a team, estimate how many dots there are in the entire painting.
  8. Share your strategy and results with the class.
  9. As a class, compare estimating strategies.
  10. Round two: revise your strategy. Estimate again as a group.
  11. Share your results again.
  12. As a class, decide what your final answer is.

Collaborate with other classes. Merge this into a Mystery Skype conversation, or connect with other classes in the Flat Classroom Project. There are so many options for integrating art from the Google Art Project into math lessons. The DIY section of the site has other eduawesome lesson ideas. Finally, if you’re loving these ideas, join the Google Art Project Community over at Google+.