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As I walked into Poultney Elementary School on the morning of October 25, it was easy to mistake it for any other morning, but the cafeteria was buzzing with excitement.  There were elementary students scattered about eating breakfast and talking with friends, but over in the back corner, where 5th and 6th grade students usually sit, there were young wizards and witches waiting to be sorted into their Hogwarts House.

Students at Poultney Elementary Schol were sorted into houses at the beginning of the day

Maureen Kahill, Keith Harrington, and Tia Hewes have been bringing learning to life with theme days for up to 31 years.  This day’s theme day? That’s right, Harry Potter. The 5/6 team uses Harry Potter because it follows the Hero’s journey.  Prior to this day, students were taught about Joseph Campbell’s research, through which he discovered several basic stages that almost every hero-quest goes through.  This year students studied the Hero’s journey through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, while on alternating years, students use Percy Jackson.

Madam Hooch (Tia Hewes), Professor Dumbledore (Keith Harrington), Professor McGonagall (Maureen Kahill)

The 5/6 theme days are culminating events that are planned with the students to show what they have learned in science, math, and language arts.  Students spent the morning rotating through 4 stations, hosted by Hogwarts professors, that target skills in each of the content areas. “The Food Truck”, hosted by Madam Hooch, required students to pick a character from the book and design a food truck using what they know about the character.  Students designed the artwork, menu, staff, and song list using knowledge from the book. “Potions and Broomsticks” and “Chemistry STEM”, hosted by Professor Dumbledore, had students creating a wand with natural materials found outdoors and developing a recipe for their own Butterbeer. “Designing a Snitch Launcher” was hosted by Professor Snape and Professor Quirrell.  Young wizards and witches had to use their knowledge of STEM to create a golden snitch that could be launched by an attached rubber band. “Games” was hosted by Professor McGonagall and gave students an opportunity to play figurative language and comprehension games that were created by their peers.

At the end of the morning, I had a chance to sit down with a group of students and they excitedly shared their feelings of the day.  Students said that the 5/6 theme days are something that they have been hearing about since they were in the primary grades. They move up through the grades excited to experience it for themselves.  One student said, “I have an older brother. I would see him dress up and I was jealous. I couldn’t wait to dress up.” When I asked them what their favorite part of the day was, they said that they look forward to the opportunity to show what they have learned on their culminating theme days.

Poultney’s PBL theme days provide the 5th and 6th grade students with an engaging way to show what they have learned. 

How are you using Project Based Learning in your classroom to engage students in learning?

Thank you to the 5/6 teachers at Poultney Elementary School for inviting in the coaches to be part of this day.

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