Shadows and Light and Teaching and Learning

Southview Elementary School students practice Project Based Learning

Kearney, Mo., Oct. 22, 2021: Hunter Phipps learned that sometimes you’ve got to stop motion in order to start learning.

A fifth-grader at Southview Elementary School, Hunter and his classmates got hands-on experience today making stop-motion films while simultaneously learning about the dynamics of shadow and light.

In Rebecca Shaheen’s darkened classroom, they huddled in murmuring collaboration around rigs that held tablet computers over small paper sets and plastic animals. One student ran the camera while another rotated a light source to mimic the sun and manipulate the animal’s shadow across the set.

“This is so much better than just sitting in a chair and reading a science textbook because you get to try it yourself,” Hunter said. “It’s trial and error, so you can learn from your own mistakes.”

Kearney School District leaders have made Project Based Learning (PBL) a strategic priority this year and into the future in order to ensure that students are prepared to succeed in the 21st-century global economy. Hunter’s work is PBL in practice, according to Ms. Shaheen.

“From a standards standpoint, we are focusing on the change in the length and direction of shadows as the sun rotates,” she explained. “They are engaged in Project Based Learning using stop-motion to show what happens when the sun rises and what happens to those shadows as the sun continues to move across the sky and then sets in the west.”

Simply put, PBL involves teaching abstract, complex topics by having students address hands-on, personally relevant challenges. The hum in Shaheen’s classroom and the degree of focus by the students testified to the effectiveness of this innovative technique.

“Hands-on science definitely sticks with them,” Shaheen said. “Everyone’s interested, everyone’s engaged. We have three, four kids in a group and everyone has a role, everyone can really see what I want them to learn versus just having them read about it in a textbook.”

Back at Hunter’s table, it’s clear that he and his classmates are getting the picture.

“We’re learning how shadows move and are affected by the seasons, and why there are seasons,” he said. “But we’re also having fun.”