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Project-Based Learning

December 16, 2013

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning (http://www.p21.org) is one of the more prominent groups in trumpeting the need for schools to make significant shifts in their focus and priorities in light of changing economic and workplace realities.  Their work is highly regarded as a blueprint for meaningful school change.  Their work includes a description of 21st century student outcomes and support systems, which include core subjects and 21st century themes, learning and innovation skills, information, media and technology skills and life and career skills.  The learning skills are perhaps best described by the so-called “4 Cs” of critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity.  These skills serve as foundational principles of 21st century learning, or better yet, as the modern-day “3 Rs”.

The topic of this week’s blog is project-based learning, and I wanted to emphasize this topic because it is so important to ensure that students apply what they learn and stretch their thinking.  At the high school level this is especially important, as high-quality project-based assessments can often spark student interest in their post-secondary education.  This year at North Smithfield High School, we launched the Senior Project for the first year.  The project is a graduation requirement and it is completely student-driven.  The project requires that students research a topic of interest to them, partner with a mentor currently working in the field, write an extended research paper, and finally make a presentation to a panel of adults at the end of the year.  Although only in its first year, the early feedback on the project has been very positive.  Students had never had an opportunity such as this to initiate their own work based on their own personal interests.  In addition to this project, teachers throughout NSHS emphasize project -based learning in a variety of ways.  Here are a few examples:

  • Students in Fritz Benz’s Symphonic Band class, working in small groups, prepared and rehearsed holiday music to perform for senior citizens at a local nursing home.  The groups were selected their own music and worked on their selections independently.  Also, students in his Music Technology class are currently using digital audio software to manipulate and improve the sounds of basic MIDI music files. Each student took a well-known holiday song MIDI file, loaded it into a digital audio program and created a new arrangement using new instruments, tempos and keys.
  • Students in Lisa Cardin’s Spanish 1 and French 1 classes are completing an autobiography in the target language that will include a scrapbook and illustrations.
  • Angela Crossman and Marilyn Hudson (English) are using Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried as the inspiration for a collaborative writing project using google docs.  Students are required to demonstrate writing, research and presentation skills in addition to showing proficiency in manipulating the technology.
  • Students in Tracy Bailey-Gates’ Honors Biotechnology class are participating the in Barcoding Life’s Matrix program. This program provides exciting opportunities for students to join a global alliance of scientists in its efforts to create a digital genetic registry of Earth’s multicellular life. Students are extracting  and purifying DNA from fish tissue. Then they are isolating a gene from the DNA, amplifying it (making billions of copies through polymerase chain reaction), and sending the product to be sequenced. When the sequencing facility returns the trace files containing the sequences, students will use bioinformatics tools on the BOLD Student  Data Portal to create reference bar codes of their sample. Students are citizen scientists, and they are credited with authorship on this international database .  They are contributing to a database that will be used world-wide, and are important contributors to this initiative.
  • Students in David Mellor’s Pre-Calculus classes have discovered the min-weight producing for a Pratt Truss.  Trusses are an integral part of all suspension bridges.  In addition, his Probability students are analyzing concrete samples by the requirements of the American Concrete Institute using quantitative methods.  Finally, his senior students are using data analysis methods that they learned in their work alongside Parsons-Brinkerhoff to their senior project topics.
  • Pat Kolanko’s Culinary Arts students designed and produced original gingerbread houses that challenged them to apply problem-solving skills as well as creativity.  Her Fashion Design students are sketching original evening wear designs.
  • Linda Milner’s French II students completed a unit on “la maison” (the house).  They worked on a project in organized groups designing a house where they labeled the rooms and at least 6 objects in each room.  They also devised a list of questions and answers to the questions in French about the house.  Her Honors Spanish III class completed their annual fashion show.  After completing a unit on clothing, materials and designs, students come up with a theme for a fashion show they put on for other students.  In January, Honors Spanish III and IV students will be completing their Arts Talk Project.  Our theme is Making It In America and they will be working in groups researching a Hispanic immigrant group of their choice.  They will begin their project at RISD museum attending a Latin American Exhibition called Historias  and another exhibition called Making It In America.  Students will be researching different themes (historical background, reasons for immigrating to the US, adaptation to life in the US, native cultural bonds) connected to their chosen group.

Thanks for reading.  Everyone have a great week!  The Principal’s Sunday Night Blog will be taking a break for the holidays but will return after the New Year.  Happy holidays!

-Rob

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One Comment
  1. Wanted to also reference Angela Pasquariello (grade 12 student) who for her senior project has designed and manufactured a bangle bracelet that she is selling. Proceeds will benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Angela’s facebook page is found here: https://www.facebook.com/AngPasqSeniorProject

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