Bobby Barretto teaches third grade at HPA’s Lower School. His background includes the high-tech industry, zoo education, the Peace Corps, and Teach for America. He holds two master’s degrees from the University of Michigan in conservation ecology and science education. Barretto blends this diverse expertise into a highly creative, project-based classroom experience for his students. Earlier this year, Barretto’s students completed a long-term project that culminated in their presenting two sessions at the North Hawai‘i EdTech Summit. We asked Barretto about the project, his students, and why J.K. Rowling earns a re-write.
Why do you like using projects in the classroom?
We live in a problem- and project-based world. I like to nurture discussion around projects: Why is this happening? Does it need to happen this way? How could this be different? I feel like this is the best way to nurture the skills and mindset my students will need later in life.
Projects are also a great way to engage kids of all ages. What changes is the degree to which students drive their projects. In high school, students should be directing and creating and doing it all themselves, with the teacher facilitating on the side. In third grade, they need more guidance and structure and parameters. They work within the context you’ve set up, and you create the project to hit as many standards as you can. From there, I love seeing what students come up with—they almost always exceed my expectations, or go in really creative directions. I often learn as much as my students do.
What project did the third-graders present at EdTech?
The project began with a re-write of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, our read-aloud book. The point I like to make with them is that writing can always be revised and improved. Working in pairs, they chose a section to re-write. Maybe it was a part they wished turned out differently, or maybe the protagonist becomes the antagonist, or vice versa.
Then students imagined their re-write through the design of a robotics diorama. They used Hummingbird boards to code and control LEDs, servos, motors, and sensors. We nicknamed them “Harry Botters.” We ended up with a three-headed dog, a couple of Quidditch fields, a Gringotts Bank vault, and other characters and settings from the book. Over the course of several months, the projects integrated design thinking, close reading, creative writing, art, computer science, Boolean logic, and ultimately, authentic public presentation. It’s really important to end every project with a showcase event, where kids get to show off what they have created. It’s an important skill, plus it provides a real purpose, a sense of pride.
Our showcase was the EdTech Summit, where the kids presented at two sessions. I think they had 20 or 30 people signed up in total, mostly teachers. They really thought the role reversal was fun.
What’s fun about teaching third grade?
This is my favorite year—a pivotal year. Students are now opening a book and asking, “Wow, where is this book going to take me?” They’re beginning to discover who they are as people. It’s so important for them to explore everything and not define themselves too narrowly. No one is “bad at math” or “good at reading.” It might take more work to get better at something, but that’s not a bad thing. They need to know that the world is wide open to them.
Editor’s note: This profile first appeared in the Spring 2018 issue of Ma Ke Kula.