"Project-based learning:" Trigg Co. superintendent, assistant chief say teaching/learning approach works well with greater rigor of common core standards...

Cadiz Record, Dec. 31, 2014

School board discussed Project Based Learning
By Franklin Clark

Earlier this month, Trigg County High School students showed members of the Trigg County Board of Education projects related to Land Between the Lakes that they had been working on for weeks.

Some of the projects concerned the contaminants and pollution in Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake, including lead, mercury and agricultural runoff. Others looked at ways to curtail the zebra mussel population, as it isn’t native to the area.

Those projects are part of what Trigg County Schools Superintendent Travis Hamby and Trigg County Schools Assistant Superintendent Beth Summer call Project Based Learning.

Because these projects incorporate several different disciplines, Hamby thinks they will help the district meet its educational goals in the long run.

“Project based learning is just a different method of instruction,” Sumner said. “It allows us to do a lot of inquiry. They decide to determine a problem, a project that they want to work on, and they investigate and research.”

The teachers, Sumner said, have purposefully connected those projects with the standards they expect students to learn. What board members saw this month, she added, were the final products, the results of several weeks of work.

At the high school, the students went on field trips to LBL, a couple of times in the course of their projects in order to conduct hands-on research. This kind of learning, Sumner said, isn’t solely textbook-driven.

“The purpose of the project-based learning is, we are really trying to provide our students with a deeper learning experience, really beyond what we have provided … with traditional instruction, where students are not just only learning content, but also having to apply that content to a real-world authentic situation that could be also applied, those skills, to work on the job,” said Hamby.

One of the advantages of this form of learning is that instead of learning subjects in isolation, it combines different subject matters, as teachers who teach science, language arts and social studies worked together on the LBL projects, Hamby stated.

The other day, students created documentaries, something Hamby said gives the students a deeper understanding of the content, as they can share what they have learned via that documentary.

It gives them a context for what they are learning in class, he said, adding that in some way, they became researchers, He argued that by applying the content in this way, students retain the content for a longer period of time than students in a traditional learning environment.

Another aspect of the projects is that the students had to work in teams, teaching them communication and collaboration skills, said Sumner, who also stated that they also had to work with the LBL staff on these projects. Hamby noted that they had to interview LBL staff.

“We can’t even fathom the kinds of things our students can come up with,” Hamby said. “I’ve read recently about students who have created prosthetics for animals as a result of 3-D printing as part of a project-based learning experience."

The sophomore class is currently doing a project for arts and humanities, wherein they interviewed elementary students about their interests to see what they might like to read about in a storybook.

These sophomores, Hamby stated, are creating and illustrating those storybooks and will have them bound, and then they’ll present those storybooks to those elementary students next year.

At another school, sixth grade students had actually created a magazine. They put it together, had it bound and they’re selling it online to help fund additional projects, Hamby stated.

Several school districts in the state and even the nation are looking at this, including Graves County Public Schools and Paducah Independent Schools, Hamby said. The latter, he added, sent some teachers to Trigg County’s summer training programs.

Common Core standards require the students to “take that content to another level of having to critically think about it, and to apply it, in new and different situations,” Hamby argued.

Sumner said it’s a different approach to instruction and requires additional training.

There will still be homework and assignments, formative assessments to make sure students are mastering the content. But ultimately he thinks it will help their students become more ready for college and/or whatever careers they choose.

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