Project Based Learning at Sanborn: The Sophomore Experience



Eagle Tribune Tim Jean photo of Sanborn's Sophie Smith

A recent Getting Smart Podcast highlights how Project-Based Learning (PBL) connects the real world with deep impact. Blogger Bonnie Lathram highlights the Flight by Design engineering and math course at Washington State’s Raisbeck Aviation High School and also a STEM program in South Carolina’s Westwood High School as great examples of PBL programs for which “students are engaged in authentic and meaningful project work”  that promote “deeper learning outcomes for more students.” On Twitter, the hashtag #PBL is always trending with educators sharing their experiences with PBL.

Two years ago in a MultiBriefs Exclusive, I wrote about how PBL had transformed classrooms at Sanborn Regional High School. In this article I talked about how our sophomore small learning community “pods” put science into action by partnering with the University of New Hampshire and the local Kingston Conservation Commission to solve a problem that had been plaguing lakefront property owners in our community for years: increased vegetation and a rise in invasive species. After conducting research which included the collection and analysis of data, students determined the root cause of the problem and returned, shovels in hand, ready to help properties owners implement solutions that included the establishment of rain gardens and vegetation buffers.

I am pleased to report that two years after this article was written, the PBL model is alive and well in our school. The sophomore team of teachers, with guidance from Assistant Principal Michael Turmelle, has continued to collaborate with local community organizations year after year in similar authentic projects and experiences that integrate the content areas of Biology, English Language Arts, and Civics. In 2014 the focus was on invasive species in the local Kingston town forest. Last year’s focus was on the improvement of the habitat for pollinators, including honeybees and monarch butterflies, in several key properties in town. The 2016 project will include the development of a forest management plan for a large section of wetlands in the Kingston town forest.

According to the Buck Institute for Education (BIE), “Project-Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge.” Key design elements of a PBL project include a focus on key knowledge and success skills, a challenging problem or question, sustained inquiry, authenticity, student voice and choice, reflection, critique and revision, and a public product.

BIE Director Bob Lenz and Editor in Chief John Larmer run an annual PBL conference known as PBL World in Napa Valley, California. According to the event website, “the conference includes exemplary workshops, inspiring keynote speakers, and community building opportunities to catalyze transformational change in teaching and learning. We bring together dedicated teachers, instructional coaches, and school leaders to build their capacity for implementing and sustaining Gold Standard Project Based Learning in the communities they serve.”

Lenz also recently announced the publication of a new resource for PBL known as Gold Standard Project-Based Learning: An Overview. In a recent blog article he talked about this resource: “Project Based Learning can be transformative, but only when it's implemented with integrity, rigor, and purpose. In order to help teachers create high-quality PBL experiences for students, the Buck Institute for Education has developed the Gold Standard PBL framework, which draws from current research and theory as well as the practical experience of highly effective PBL teachers.

Educators are looking for ways to engage learners in deep learning, and Project-Based Learning provides a proven recipe for success in journey. The sophomore model is a great example of how we are looking to realize that vision in our school.

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