Project-based learning can expand opportunities

  • Posted: Saturday, November 2, 2013 11:51 p.m.
Aiken Standard FILE ART
Members of the Career Center’s health science team cheer on their remote-controlled car during a racing competition. To their own amazement, the squad members took third overall. The Career Center focuses on project-based learning.
Aiken Standard FILE ART Members of the Career Center’s health science team cheer on their remote-controlled car during a racing competition. To their own amazement, the squad members took third overall. The Career Center focuses on project-based learning.

Last spring, seniors at the Aiken County Career and Technology Center participated in the facility’s annual car races – competitions around and around a track in front of the school.

Students in each discipline – among them mechanical and architectural design, health science, machine tools, automotive technology services, mechatronics, electricity, welding, machine tools and more.

Such events are fun, even hilarious as the cars inevitably crash into each other over and over again. But it’s also about every aspect of teamwork, from building the cars to repairing them in the midst of a race.

“Race cares are so much more than that,” said King Laurence, Aiken School District’s associate superintendent for instruction. “The students used the technical aspects of weight and measurement, including some language arts in writing about the process.”

There’s a fairly new name for this – project-based learning. The Career Center brings that concept to life, where core subjects are not taught in isolation.

“It’s more a real-world experience, using all skills to pull a project together,” Laurence said

That kind of initiative works just well at any school, at any grade level. Earlier this fall, Laurence and other administrators attended a conference that provided discussion about science, technology, engineering and math. Yet as Laurence suggested, project-learning can cross over in every content area. He recalls from his own K-12 days an art project that pulled in science and math by the teacher.

In the new Common Core academic standards, teachers and administrators are working on curriculum to introduce those standards. Through that process, they’re developing sample lessons to use as guides to integrate all the core subjects. That effort can be turned over to students, enabling them to work together in a more formal way.

“Not every student is ready to jump into projects with groups of kids,” Laurence said. “We want them to recognize that they can still be a part of that process. We can help with volunteers or computer-assisted instruction. They need to be successful in that atmosphere.”

All but two Aiken County middle schools have synergistic labs – computer module-based software that can introduce students to a wide range of career opportunities. The seventh- and eighth-graders work in pairs or groups on projects.

“It’s not just reading a textbook,” said Joy Shealy, the District’s middle schools’ academic officer. “The students are able to use manipulatives that tie in to math and science. But it’s not just STEM. Students learn better when there’s a tie-in to other subjects. Science fairs, for example, are not just about science. Students can see the relationship in math to science and English to science.”

Senior writer Rob Novit is the Aiken Standard’s education reporter.

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