Woodland Service Learning Project

Woodland Service Learning Project Puts Students in the Driver’s Seat
Posted on 10/25/2019
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Service, real world, project based, personalized learning features students with Trooper the Dog during a visit following a donation drive that collected more than 1500 itemsWhat happens when you give a group of sixth-graders the freedom to lead their own community action project? They fill half their classroom with 1,500-plus donations for the Animal Friends Humane Society and facilitate a special celebrity dog appearance for the winning class. 

“It was 100 percent their idea from start to finish. I simply facilitated the process,” said Woodland Elementary School’s gifted intervention specialist, Stephanie Fulmer, who took the first step for any project-based learning activity. She posed a question.

“How can you help your community?” she challenged them before setting them loose.

Her students waffled a bit to come up with a collective response before eventually landing on the story of “Trooper the Dog.” The abandoned puppy who became blind and lost his two hind legs in a train accident quickly became their inspiration for a school-wide donation drive.

“We immediately wanted to find a way to help other animals who were homeless, abused or lost - not just anywhere, but right here in our own community,” said Woodland sixth-grader Emily Steinke, whose grin was the best indication of a great learning experience and successful outcome. 

Fulmer’s strategy is one that encourages real-world learning and empowers her students to drive their own learning. In fact, project based learning is one of the four personalized learning pathways that all Lakota teachers are being challenged to integrate into their teaching, regardless of their grade level or subject area.

“Finding a problem within the community and thinking about ways to make it better can be empowering,” Fulmer said. “Facilitating this kind of problem-based learning allows students to see, first-hand, how a small idea can lead to an impactful way to make a big difference. I am hopeful my students will use this experience to precipitate change throughout their lives.”

The lessons and skill building went far beyond the obvious service learning component though. In addition to researching local organizations and coming up with a class consensus, they had to develop a plan for seeing through their drive and then act on it. That plan included everything from marketing their drive and writing Trooper’s family to writing thank you notes following his visit. Perhaps the biggest lesson was in collaboration. 

“Students learned that sometimes we have to listen to each other and find ways to compromise so that everyone has a voice,” Fulmer said. “When you have numerous strong leaders within a class, sometimes negotiating details that are acceptable to the whole group is very difficult. Students had to figure out ways to be fair and include everyone’s vision.”

The end game with any kind of personalized learning is a higher level of student engagement. And if the smiles and level of enthusiasm in the Innovation Hub during Trooper’s visit were Fulmer’s measure of success, she certainly achieved that. “Having Trooper come to celebrate the success of the donation drive was probably one of the greatest days for my class,” she said.