I had been waiting for it and somehow, I missed the call. For real? I emailed the City of Abbotsford awhile ago with some deep hopes of partnering with them on a “What’s in My Backyard?” project. A project—that post-Newcastle Island trip and amidst FSA writing in grade 7—was due to be presented at Presentations of Learning Night in 27 short days!

As grade 7 teachers, we weren’t stressed at all!

We had a plan, but just needed buy in from the city to allow us access to a few areas up for development near our school so we could ecologically evaluate how the development might affect the flora and fauna of the area.

Student reflection:

My teacher kept talking about POL night. She would go on and on about how fun and exciting this project would be and the whole class would stare at her. Aren’t we all doing the Civilization Fair like the grade 7’s did last year?” POL night is one of those things almost every student looks forward to. Many of us have older siblings at this school, meaning we have watched them do POL night EVERY SINGLE YEAR throughout middle school. We knew what to expect this year, so when our teacher told us we were waiting on the city’s approval there was a ton of confusion and some disappointment. The classroom had this nervous energy as we anxiously waited to hear the “yes” from city hall. When our teacher (slowly) told us what they had planned for us there was a bit more excitement.   

Nervously, I called them back. If they said no to our proposal, we were really going to have to scramble to come up with a legit project the kids could put together. A friendly voice on the other end of the phone greeted me.

Anxiously I waited. Yes? No?

“Unfortunately, we aren’t able to get you onto the properties you requested…”

My mind started to spin. “Now what?” 3.5 weeks to come up with a project tied into ecology…

“…but we do have a counter-proposal, if you are interested?”

START THE CAR! Interested? Ummm…. yes, we are!

As I listened more intently on what their counter-idea was, I grew more excited!

An area of land that is city owned and up for development? The kids could decide what to build there and how it might affect the area, the green space, and Abbotsford? For real? If there was a teacher’s Christmas, this present just ended up under our teacher tree! 

27 days. We could meet next week to chat about how this could all play out. Minus Thanksgiving Day and the Pro-D Day after, plus the Professional Development Day on October 20. That is 16 school days. We CAN do this!

Now, how to sell this convincingly to my teammates and our students!

Student reflection:

It’s October 9 and our teachers just told us we only have 12 more days to complete this project. “We only have 12 more days to get this project done?” “We’ve barely scratched the surface of what were supposed to do!” I’ll admit we were excited about building 3-D models and being able to use the 3-D printers for a project! It was fun being able to think about building anything with no restrictions (except for no space stations) in that area and then doing it.

Thankfully, the clientele was willing. After the initial grumble about a project and work, the students became engaged. As the challenge became real and comments such as, “We can build anything?” “I love this!” filled our teacher buckets to persevere.

Student reflection:

After we got over our disappointment about not being able to present a Civilization Fair, we got into our groups and it was clearer what the task was ahead of us. Being in a group with friends made the experience so much more fun and the ability of being able to create anything without having to worry about money and stuff made the experience all the better.                      

I’ve always loved myself a good rodeo and the gate of this project-based rodeo was open. We were completely saddled in on this project. As teachers, we hung on tight as we met kick after kick this project presented, and tried to stay mounted.

  • Where and when do we have the City come talk to our whole class?
  • How do students present this on POL Night? What will they actually create?
  • How many kids should be in a group?
  • How do the kids engage an audience?
  • What can they use to create their map of the area?
  • How do we get students to physically create an artifact of their concept?
  • How do we get students to understand square footage of the space they get to develop?
  • Will 12-year olds understand what Abbotsford needs now and in the future?
  • 3-D Printing the buildings? Are we crazy?
  • Where and in what space can kids present their learning?
  • Plasticine? Where do you buy grey plasticine? (for the record, we cleaned out Abbotsford, Mission, and Surrey’s stash at Michael’s and Dollar Stores)
  • Presentation? How do they present?
  • How do we get our students to understand stakeholder points of view?
  • How in the world are we going to get this done?
  • What? The Mayor is coming? And city council?

Student reflection:

Our teacher just told us that they made arrangements with City Hall and the mayor and some people that are on the City Council are coming to POL night to watch our presentations! All of a sudden this whole project turns into a way bigger deal than it already was! We really had to get cooking to get this thing done in time!

We managed to stay on the project-based horse. As a team, we weathered the “how abouts,” “what-ifs,” “we need kids to understand,” and, “Oh my, this is happening in two days….”

Our kids blew us away. The Mayor came, City Councillors came, our awesome partners at City Hall came and listened.

Not only did they listen, they were amazed at what our students created. As were we!