Project-Based Learning — Endangered Animal Unit, Part 3

By Megan Power on March 6, 2012
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2

This is the conclusion of a three-part description of a kindergarten project-based learning unit on endangered animals. The first blog post in this series illustrated how project-based learning motivates kindergartners to do research, and the last post ended with the results of our schoolwide election to decide which endangered animal we would help to save. By an overwhelming number, the Javan rhinos won. In this post you will see how my class came together to help save the Javan rhinos by creating a trail mix and selling it at recess.



Creating the Product

Once we determined that we were going to help the Javan rhinos, we looked on the World Wildlife Fund’s Web site to see how much it would cost to symbolically adopt one. It cost $80 to symbolically adopt the Javan rhinos. As a class we held a discussion to think about what we could do to raise $80. Several students had the idea of holding a trail mix sale at recess.

The students took time to brainstorm what they wanted in their trail mix. This included Goldfish, pretzels, M&M’s, crackers, marshmallows, raisins, and a few types of cereal. We were very fortunate to have parents donate all the food items along with small Ziploc bags.

One of the math skills we work on in kindergarten is measurement. This was a real hands-on way to practice measurement. We tried different measurements to determine the best amount for the trail mix. When we measured one bag with one full cup, the students realized that it was too much food to eat at recess and that filling the bags would make fewer bags to sell. After trying a few different measurements, we landed on ½ cup in each bag.


Advertising and Marketing

Now that we had our product and it was being created, it was important to advertise to our school that we would be selling trail mix for $0.25. I selected this number because my students, through this project, were just getting introduced to the coins. Keeping it small tailored it to my students’ math learning level and made it inexpensive for other students to purchase.

As a class we came up with ideas of how we could get the word out about our trail mix sale. The students had to connect to their own experience with marketing. The ideas they came up with were flyers, morning announcements over the PA at school, phone blast messages to all the families at school, and posters. We broke up into four groups and worked on these advertisements.

Students practiced purposeful writing in making all of these advertisements, including a prerecorded message that the kids wrote and recorded. It was put into our school's communication system and called out to each phone number in that system. The message was also emailed with a recording of the message. My phone message group had to summarize our whole project in a few sentences that gave parents an understanding of what was going on. For kindergarten writers, making sure that something so close to you makes sense to others is a higher level thinking activity.

The flyer group and I decided that we could make small flyers and pass them out to people after school. It was a great experience for my little kindergartners to go out and talk to adults and older kids at dismissal about our trail mix sale. Not only was it a huge confidence builder, but it caught a lot of kids' and parents’ attention.


Learning Money

I typically wait to introduce money in math until this project. Technically it isn’t one of our kindergarten standards nor is it listed in the new Common Core. I feel that it is an important math skill that my students can learn, especially when it is tied to a project that they care about. This way, their interest in learning and their determination to do so is alive and present. This motivation makes learning to identify the coins and their values a lot quicker. We also take some time to talk about different ways to make $0.25. Through practice, my students stop thinking, for example, that three coins would mean three bags of trail mix and start to look at the values and combinations of coins.


Selling the Trail Mix

My students had a wonderful time selling the trail mix. This year we determined jobs that made it run more smoothly than it has in past years. The students took the roles of cashiers, trail mix stockers, and advertisers. During the project, all students switched so they could experience all jobs. The students got into the process of working together to sell the trail mix very quickly. We had four lanes with cashiers so we could sell to people more efficiently. Here was our cashier process:

  • Sign holders walked around and talked with the customers before and after they purchased the product.
  • Cashiers greeted the customers and asked how many bags they would like to buy.
  • The customer told the number and handed them the money.
  • The cashier showed the money to me and told me the number of bags.
  • During this time the trail mix stockers got the correct number of bags of trail mix and held them until I gave the OK on the amount of money given.
  • The cashier gave the bags to the customer and thanked them for helping the Javan rhinos.

The whole system worked smoothly, and each child had an important job in making the sale work. Believe it or not, we sold out of about 375 bags of trail mix in two days! The students in the school loved the mix and wanted more!


Counting the Money Raised

Dumping that whole container of money out each day to sort and count it brought a lot of excitement to my classroom. The students were beside themselves seeing the money they had raised and were so proud that it was going to help the Javan rhinos. Another one of our math skills is sorting, and this was a great way to practice that. The students sorted the coins and bills. Then as a whole class we counted out groups of $1.00. We placed them in rows of $5.00 so we could count up the money by 5s (another kindergarten math standard).

Because of this project, all of my students know how to count by 25s to 100 and know that four quarters makes $1.00. In the end, with a few donations by a student’s proud family, we raised $160.00. This was double our goal!


Letter to the World Wildlife Fund

$160.00! Many of my students said that they had never seen that much money in their lives. After we raised the money, the students started asking what the organization does with it. We talked as a group about how they don’t just hand the money to the rhinos to use. That could happen in a fiction story, but not in real life. We decided to write the World Wildlife Fund a letter and give suggestions on how they could use the money to assist the Javan rhinos. I was blown away by the higher level of thinking my students demonstrated and the connections they made. This activity was a true assessment of what they had learned about the endangered animal because they were able to think about why the animal was endangered and come up with solutions to stop those reasons from happening. This was the perfect ending to an amazing learning experience.


Future Extension of This Project

We have just sent the money away to the World Wildlife Fund to symbolically adopt a Javan rhino and are anxiously awaiting the thank-you gift the organization sends. A certificate will come back as well as a small plush Javan rhino. We will send this rhino stuffed animal home with a different kid each night. Inside the backpack will be a blank book where each child will add a fact about the Javan rhino to help create a keepsake class book. Below is a photo of a Florida panther plush and the students' book from a few years ago.


After you take part in a project like this, you will always come back to project-based learning. I love how all the learning is so connected and purposeful and the students are so driven and motivated. This project completely transformed my group of kindergartners. Before, they were needy and did not take as much ownership and responsibility in their learning. After starting the project, I saw all the students light up and become hungry learners. They have much more pride in their work and take more responsibility in their learning. They have learned to truly work together and depend on each other to complete a project. The students have learned empathy and are more aware of others, especially animals. Mostly they feel empowered. They have realized that even though they are kindergartners, they can make a difference in the world. 

I encourage you to try out project-based learning, and I’m confident that you will find as much success with it as my students and I have found. It can be messy and a little scary, as a teacher, letting go of control, but your students will surprise you and step up to the plate if it is really meaningful and purposeful. For more on the plight of the Javan rhinos, read a February 24, 2012, World Wildlife Fund article about rhino horn trafficking right here in the USA. And please share any projects that you have worked on or experiences you have with project-based learning. I’d love to hear about other projects!


Nice job. I love Project Based Learning, and my workshops are based on this same type of projects.

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