Pose a question and provide freedom to solve the problem! Many teachers are jumping on board with Project-Based Learning throughout Thompson School District. It provides opportunities for students to work and think within real-world scenarios. The teacher develops a broad essential question, then asks students to collaborate in order to find a solution. Jennifer Solt, of Thompson Valley High School, has fully embraced this model with her senior English students. Upon visiting the class during the project, it’s clear that the students have embraced it too.
Solt explained the purpose of this model of learning in her classroom. “I was given permission three years ago to move senior English from the traditional texts and essays to a Project-Based Learning model. TSD and TVHS have been very supportive of this shift, and I value this greatly.” She felt her senior English students needed a different style of instruction in order to remain engaged in school. They are now given a semester-long project in which they “make decisions about how their time is managed… and to collaborate with their peers to solve a problem.” Students are continuously developing their work habits through the idea of failing forward.
As both individuals and groups, throughout the project, the students are gaining a better understanding of what actions and ways of thinking are required to succeed and what they need to avoid next time. “These are the skills I believe they most need and they are embedded in English/Language Arts standards: strong research practice, writing opportunities (narrative, argumentative, and informative), genre-based and research-based reading, language practice, and authentic speaking and listening, including a presentation to selected community members,” Jennifer said.
For this particular project, students worked collaboratively to develop an “Escape Room.” For those not familiar with the idea, an Escape Room is a live action game in which participants are locked in a room with puzzles and typically have an hour to escape. These types of interactive events are a burgeoning industry that speak to our students’ generation as they continuously seek learning, and entertainment, through authentic experience.
After developing prototypes of the Escape Room, the student groups created a video presentation to sell their idea to a panel, much like ABC’s “Shark Tank”. Sending these video to a committee of community members, a few student groups were selected as the most innovative products.
When asked about what they enjoyed from Project-Based Learning, and this project in particular, Solt’s students recognized that this model of collaboration taught real-world skills that they will need very soon as they move into the college and career world. While Jennifer provided many checkpoints, specific feedback, and outlines for success, the students still had a lot of freedom in the process for their project’s development. The students stated how they learned more about themselves; how they handle team dynamics, how they can turn a vague idea into a tangible product, and especially how they juggle time management. Whether the students felt success or struggled with the project, they learned more about themselves and what they are going to do as they move on from Thompson education.
If you are interested in integrating Project-Based Learning in your classroom or school, feel free to contact Jennifer Solt, EdTech TSD, or other Project-Based Learning teachers in Thompson School District. “I’m so excited about what my students have accomplished the past three years in English 12 that I will happily share with anyone who will listen. It is a tough transition, but it is so worth it,” Jennifer said when happily reflecting on the experiences of her students.
By Joe Zappa