Project-Based Learning Takes Many Forms

Project-Based Learning Takes Many Forms at West Freshman
Posted on 05/28/2019
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When challenged to research and take action on an issue for their fourth quarter language arts project, Lakota West Freshman students Shriya Kappagantula (pictured left) and Dana Shi (pictured right) tackled plastic waste. They hosted a plastic bag drive to help bring awareness to the issue and provide resources for making pillows and blankets out of "plarn." The energy in Lakota West Freshman’s Innovation Hub after school last week spilled into the hallway as students showcased their last quarter’s work. Their projects may have stemmed from three different classrooms and two different subject areas, but they all had one thing in common: a move toward more personalized and project-based learning.

Language arts teachers Cathy Bella and Jessica Jurowski both challenged their students to not only research, but also tackle one problem in our world. The assignment was purposefully vague and open to interpretation so as to push them toward something they felt passionate about. Used widely across Lakota, the project-based approach has been called everything from a Passion Project to Genius Hour to 20 Time. 

“I encouraged them to think of something that breaks their heart or simply could be better,” said Bella, noting the requirements of a research paper and most importantly, an active response.

Jurowski’s students received the same assignment, but first had to read a novel that would set up their topic. One of her students read about anti-semitism and felt compelled enough to request a meeting with the district’s curriculum department to discuss options for increased curricular exposure to the Jewish religion.

“What I loved about it was that it forced students to step out of their bubble and communicate in a professional manner. This was a big step for some of my students,” Jurowski said.

One of Bella’s groups focused their attention on the over-consumption of plastic. Wanting to catch the attention of their peers and help two causes at once, they hosted a plastic bag drive, using all their collections to create “plarn” for the making of mats and pillows oftentimes used by homeless people.

“You don’t have to go down in our history books to contribute to society,” said freshman Dana Shi. “Change can be as simple and easy as not using straws or water bottles or using reusable bags and that’s the message we were trying to send.”

Another group made a compelling argument for integrating qualities of the Finish education system into American schools. They provided evidence of successful strategies and even went as far as to conduct a survey of their peers as the first step for bringing their ideas to decision-makers. One group member, Natalie Byers, noted two West Freshman teachers’ move to team teaching next school year, saying, “It’s so difficult to connect the dots between overlapping concepts in different classes, so it makes a lot of sense to pair something like social studies and language arts together. It shows that people are listening and willing to change.”  

The projects on display by social studies teacher Jennifer Parrett’s students were a reminder that any exercise with an “authentic audience” (i.e. real people to view and interact with the project) qualifies as project-based learning. “PBL doesn’t always have to solve a world problem,” Parrett said.

One of her class sections worked individually to research their “Greatest American” based on criteria they designed together, before going head to head with their peers for a bracket-style competition. In the end, each class would forms groups to present a case for one of the four winning “Great Americans” to come up with a top pick.

Another class section educated each other and then visitors to the PBL Showcase about the different countries making up Africa. “As Americans, we don’t hear much about Africa,” Parrett said. “It’s a part of the modern world that oftentimes gets skipped, so I thought it was important to cover.”


Pictured above: When challenged to research and take action on an issue for their fourth quarter language arts project, Lakota West Freshman students Shriya Kappagantula (pictured left) and Dana Shi (pictured right) tackled plastic waste.