Project Spicy: Lesson Plan


Project-Based Learning Experience: Project Spicy
Carlie Post

Essential Questions

How might we use a variety of texts to answer research questions?
What might be some things to consider when selecting informational text?
In which contexts can we stay mindful of the author’s purpose?
How can we best use technology to conduct research and support our learning?
How can we collaborate to accomplish learning goals?
Which metacognitive processes are occurring as we investigate a topic?
In what ways might we use digital tools to play with, organize, and share our learning?
How might it be helpful to synthesize and reflect on what we have learned together?
How might we apply our new skills in the future?


1:1 iPads
Digital camera
Original photographs
Google search
CIPA safe browser
QR code generator (
Explain Everything

Phase 1: Entry Event
Introduce picture of “Spicy” (Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar, life stage 3). Explain that Spicy will be living in our classroom and that this statement and the photo comprise all of the information students will be receiving for the moment!

Student Collaboration: Pair-share thoughts about the entry event.

Formative Assessment: Gauge student engagement in inquiry-based learning based on reactions to entry event. Accept student shared reactions.

Phase 2: Project Launch

Inquiry Questions: What might we need to know about Spicy before he starts living in our classroom? How might we find answers to our questions? Students use Padlet to post and share questions.

Driving Question: Based on student discussion, develop overall PBL driving question: How can we use our iPad to learn more about Spicy?

Generate Need to Know List:

Content                                           Inquiry/Processing
What type of creature is Spicy?    Which resources can we use for discovery?
Where did Spicy come from?        How might we document our learning?
What does Spicy eat?                    How can we use our iPads to investigate?
What is Spicy currently doing?    How can Project Spicy help us learn?
What is Spicy’s habitat?                Which metacognitive strategies might we use?
What is Spicy’s life cycle?             What are we learning about learning processes?
What will help Spicy live outside his habitat?
What kinds of things does Spicy do?
What are Spicy’s natural predators?

Digital Creation: Create research notebook in Noteshelf to serve as “landing pad” for student collection of information.

Phase 3: Inquiry-Based Research

Photograph and upload anchor chart of Need to Know questions list so that students can download and import it as the first page in their research journal.

Individual Inquiry: Help students deduce the most pressing question on the need-to-know list: What type of creature is Spicy? Give the students the foundational directive to discover potential answers to this question by using their iPads. Allow students 20 minutes to independently research without parameters or further direction. Circulate to collect data on initial student research processes or selected tools.

Reflection: Gather students into a whole-group setting to reflect on research process and any new learning.

Student Collaboration: Use the Think-Pair(trio)-Share strategy to reflect on these questions:

-What might you have learned about Spicy so far?
-What tools have you used to make these discoveries?
-How might we improve our  investigation?

Record student reflection and feedback on a chart: Initial Discovery.

Mini-Lesson: Teach a mini lesson on media literacy with regard to types of information sources available (books, magazines, newspapers, Internet articles, online encyclopedias, databases). Introduce the idea that one way to access information is to use a Google search, and that Google offers more than one type of search tool. Introduce today’s search tools: Google Web and Google Images using CIPA safe browser on student iPads. Model how to search for a topic, select Web or Images, and access the link. Frontload students’ facility with problem solving by explaining that some links will be blocked and that in that case, they will simply need to backtrack to the search results and select a new link.

Collaborative Student Research: Organize students into pre-determined trios based on technological capability, reading level, and sophistication of research skills.
Allow students 30 minutes to collaborate while using Google Web and Images via CIPA safe browser and record their findings in Noteshelf using self-selected strategies and organizational structures that are most helpful to them.

Work with special education teacher to provide scaffolding for students with lower reading levels, ensuring substantial access to text for all students. Circulate to collect data on student research processes, tools, and first research terms or questions. Input findings into Popplet for later use during reflection.

Reflection: When students begin finding what they believe is the correct species, gather all students into a whole-group setting to reflect using Popplet as a springboard. Popplet will identify first search terms (orange bug, insect, spicy caterpillar, etc.) and those that proved most successful in identifying which species Spicy is, a Spicebush Swallowtail caterpillar in larva stage that will eventually turn into a butterfly.

Mini Lesson: Ask students for input regarding what was challenging about finding information; one of their points will likely be that some of the articles they discovered were hard to read. Teach a mini lesson on selecting appropriately leveled sources, particularly with the help of QR codes and readers.

Digital Tools: Introduce Qrafter and explain how QR codes and explain how they can be helpful for accessing information quickly. Model how to use a QR code to locate an online article. Give students an opportunity to practice using Qrafter. Display QR codes for informational sources at varying text levels that students can self-select for research.

Informational Sources:
1: Caring for Insects Outside Natural Habitat
2: Life Cycle and Habitat
3: Beautiful Wildlife Garden
4: Digital Insect Collection: Life Cycle + Habitat
5. Field Study: Appearance, Behavior,  Life Cycle

Share: Students select their favorite questions from the need-to-know list and share them in pairs, followed by a whole-group share of questions to which students are most interested in finding the answers.

Students return to trios to continue researching collaboratively based on their areas of interest, recording their findings in their Noteshelf research notebook.

Phase 4: Presentation

Synthesize: Students review all of their recorded research and select four items of greatest interest.

Digital Creation: Re-introduce Explain Everything as a platform for presenting information. Remind students that they know how to access and view a presentation and explain that now they will be using the app to create a presentation that depicts what they have learned about Spicy. Students will create a presentation with an introduction slide and at least four more slides presenting the need-to-know questions they answered with their research. Students may use photographs, drawings, and audio recordings to “play” with digital technology and\ enhance their presentations.

Share: Students will share their Explain Everything presentations in pairs, determined based on students who will challenge each other’s thinking. Return to whole-group setting to celebrate student learning with sharing favorite or most interesting facts learned through research using need-to-know list.

Reflect: Revisit the idea that there two types of learning: content-based and metacognition (thinking about one’s learning). Ask students to reflect on the process involved with the learning discoveries they just celebrated using the following questions:

-What did it feel like not to have a lot of background information before beginning research?
-What steps did it take to discover information?
-What made you successful in finding answers to your questions?
-What might you do differently next time you embark on your next project-based learning adventure?

Students use the Adaptive Schools wheel strategy to share their most important discovery about themselves as learners, based on Project Spicy.

As a group, collect and record most important learning discoveries on anchor chart: Metacognitive Learning. Display the chart in the classroom for future reference.

Photograph chart and upload to Dropbox. Students download chart to iPads and share their need-to-know question list, their presentation, and their Metacognitive Learning discoveries with families. Students add one slide to their Explain Everything presentation describing the reactions of their new audience.

Common Core Third Grade Standards Specific to this Lesson Plan:

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3.1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis for the answers.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.2 Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.3 Describe the relationship between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text, using language that pertains to time, sequence, and cause/effect.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.4 Determine the meaning of general academic and domain-specific words and phrases in a text relevant to a grade 3 topic or subject area.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.5 Use text features and search tools (e.g., key words, sidebars, hyperlinks) to locate information relevant to a given topic efficiently.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.7 Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur).
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.3.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, at the high end of the grades 2-3 text complexity band independently and proficiently.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RF.3.4a Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.1c Ask questions to check understanding of information presented, stay on topic, and link their comments to the remarks of others.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.3.4 Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.2b Develop the topic with facts, definitions, and details.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.6 With guidance and support from adults, use technology to produce and publish writing (using keyboarding skills) as well as to interact and collaborate with others.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.7 Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.


The ideas driving the design of this project-based lesson were Hobbs’s five core competencies. I was convicted by her critical questions, not only the high level of  expectation, but also the interconnected nature of the subjects against the backdrop of technology literacy. I decided that, although it was going to be challenge, I wanted to be part of a new and engaging learning project. I wanted to create a lesson plan that facilitated both curricular expectations and provided a context in which to develop those areas of literacy. With these competencies in mind, I designed activities specifically to support them, while staying intentionally cognizant of the curricular demands of the Common Core and maintaining focus on those, as well.

Students use search tools -Google Web and Images and QR codes- to access information on a specific, high-interest topic, inspiring students to conduct research through exploration and investigation. Students ask purpose-driven questions and search for answers that matter to the classroom community.

Students select texts appropriate to their level, interpreting and synthesizing main ideas. Students read a variety of texts to analyze information about the Spicebush Swallowtail, determining main ideas such as appearance, behavior, and life cycle.

Students use presentation apps to synthesize, organize, and curate their research to present their findings to peers, as well as digital enhancements that give students an opportunity for developmentally-appropriate technology-based play.

Students reflect on both content-area knowledge and metacognitive processes experienced in the context of inquiry-based learning supported integrally with technology. Students determine meaning of texts by sharing in pairs and small groups to develop sophisticated understanding of both learning focus areas.

Students exchange thoughts not only with peers and teachers, but also with families, facilitated by the availability of iPads in a 1:1 setting, building the school-community partnership at the foundational stage of communication about new learning between students and their family members.

Ultimately, as I reflect on the completed plan, I have worked hard to create standards- and competencies-based essential questions and a comprehensive plan to address those in meaningful ways. One of my primary goals for student learning is that students are engaged deeply with content and with critical thinking and that I sustain that engagement over time. The balance of mini-lessons, introduction of new tools, collaborative research, and shared reflection will support the attention needs of eight-year-olds. The individualized nature of the project and the variety of texts, along with my support and that of my co-teaching special education provider will provide the wide range of differentiation necessary for my variety of learners. The age-appropriate entry event of investigating a potential class “pet” will offer authentic, motivating context. I am eager to enact the plan in my classroom. I am so thankful for that little caterpillar!


Bransford, J.D., Brown , A.L., & Cocking, R.R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press.

Hobbs, R. (2011). Digital and media literacy: Connecting culture and classroom. Thousand, Oaks, CA: Corwin/Sage.


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