Workshop emphasizes shift to project-based learning

By LEANN BURKE
lburke@dcherald.com

JASPER — Students across Dubois County could be doing more experiential learning next year as they engage in long-term, project-based learning lessons that are as varied as the teachers who developed them.

About 30 educators from across the county have spent the last week developing project-based learning programs to implement in their classrooms next year at a Magnify Learning professional development workshop hosted by Hub 19.

Hub 19 oversees teachers’ requests for funding from the county’s Regional Opportunity Initiatives grant. To receive funds, teachers develop an innovative idea for their classroom, such as a project-based learning program or a way to incorporate STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — into lessons.

But the projects the teachers developed this week weren’t limited to STEM. Southridge High School teacher Dave Schank used the workshop to expand a writing project he does with his biology classes centered on Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax.” Tenth Street Elementary fifth-grade teacher Eileen Meyer developed a project tied to the story “Camping with the President” by Ginger Wadsworth that’s meant to get her students out in nature, and Dubois Middle School sixth-grade math teacher Tina Terwiske expanded a cookie-baking fractions project she does with her students to have a community service component.

All the projects the teachers came up with had a couple things in common: they all take several weeks to complete, are student-driven and aim to solve a real-world problem. Those characteristics are what set them apart from the class projects most adults remember from school.

“Project-based learning is all about authenticity and making connections,” said Blake Manuel, a Magnify Learning facilitator.

Take Terwiske’s project for example. It grew from an annual cookie walk the sixth-graders did at Christmastime to practice fractions. But as Terwiske saw the various fundraisers her school runs throughout the year for community organizations and families, she found a way to grow the project.

The question that kicks off her project challenges the students to think about how they can use the skills they have to make a difference in their communities. Through the course of the project, Terwiske plans to bring in representatives from various community organizations to explain to the students what they do and why they need funds. After those presentations, the students will choose an organization they want their cookie sale to benefit. Then, they’ll bring in recipes and bake their cookies for fraction practice as they always have. But instead of sharing the cookies with their peers in a cookie walk as they have in the past, they’ll plan sales around the community to raise money for their selected cause.

“It’s taking that cookie walk we’ve been doing and turning it into something where it has a purpose and a cause,” Terwiske said.

Community connections are also a hallmark of project-based learning, and adding that element to his “Lorax” project was key for Schank. He started the initial project a few years ago when he mentioned Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax” in class during the ecology unit, and most of his students had no idea who the little environmentalist creature from the 1971 book was. Now, he has his students read the book and watch the cartoon adaptation before creating their own children’s books about ecological issues.

It’s a project that first took about a week, but one that Schank has expanded into a four- to six-week project. Much of the expansion involves bringing in representatives from local companies and organizations that have an interest in ecological issues, such as Peabody Coal, Duke Energy, the Huntingburg Water Department and OFS.

Project-based learning projects are also meant to be student-driven, a concept Meyer embraced with her project that will end with students making a podcast, a video or a brochure about activities they can do outdoors.
“I want them to be inspired and have the choice so they can enjoy what they’re doing,” Meyer said of offering her fifth-graders options for the final project.

Meyer got the idea for her project after she saw her students increasingly have more behavioral issues and struggles with self-regulation. As she talked to her students, she found out they were spending a lot more time in front of screens than in years past.

To get them back outside, Meyer designed her project. She’s planning to kick it off with students doing a little bit of research about the effects of too much screen time on children their age, then lead them outside with field trips to local parks and presentations from community partners about what they like to do outside locally.

All of the teachers said they appreciated the Magnify Learning workshop and how it gave them time to really develop their projects and put into practice what they learned with the facilitators there to give feedback.

“A lot of times, you just sit and get the info,” Meyer said of professional development. “But then you go to do it, and think, ‘OK, I need help.’”

The workshop also gave them opportunities to connect with other teachers in the area and get ideas from them, too. On Thursday, for example, the teachers presented their projects to each other, and their peers offered constructive feedback and ideas for additional resources that could be used to further develop the projects.

When Meyer presented her project of Magnify Learning facilitator Brittany Tinkler, a teacher in the Indianapolis area, Tinkler suggested she get the students involved in creating the grading rubric.

Tinkler shared a brochure project she does with her elementary students where they look at different professionally-made brochures and pick out things they see over and over again — headings, pictures and types of information. Tinkler then asks her students what they think is most important in a brochure, and those are the things that go on the grading rubric.

“I tell them, ‘OK, then that’s what I’ll be looking for in your brochures,’” Tinkler said.

Educators have seen a push for project-based learning in the last several years as new teaching best practices emphasize hands-on learning and making connections between education and the community.

Now, the teachers who attended the Magnify Learning conference have a fully developed project they can implement in their classrooms in the 2019-20 school year.




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