The Launch of Project Based Learning at Spencer Middle School

The Launch of Project Based Learning at Spencer Middle School
Posted on 10/06/2016
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Last school year, staff from Spencer Community Schools watched a film entitled, Most Likely to Succeed.  The film highlights a school, High Tech High, that utilizes Project Based Learning (PBL), and exhibits the benefits of active engagement, challenging work and authentic demonstration of learning. 

Since watching the film, teachers across the district have brainstormed opportunities to incorporate PBL into the curriculum as a way of meshing the fundamental skills of reading, writing and math with 21st century skills such as teamwork, problem solving, research gathering, time management and utilizing high tech tools. 

Recently, teachers at Spencer Middle School (SMS) brought their thoughts and ideas to fruition through the launch of their first PBL projects.  Though slightly different in their approach, students in 6th and 7th grade will complete projects that incorporate all subjects around a common theme, all for the goal of developing the skills to successfully live in a knowledge-based, highly technological society.

Becky Robinson, a 6th grade teacher at SMS shared, “In our introduction, we will be defining and explaining the purpose and goal to the students. This is a project that will be worked on together with science, social studies, math and language arts teachers.  We will be posing a question for the students to solve with each of our projects.  The sixth grade team hopes to do a project each trimester.” 

The project question for the current trimester is, “How can I use my passion to contribute to the community?"  To help launch the theme, students watched motivational video clips of young people making a difference, and Karmen Brown from Many Hands Market spoke about her passion and how she has used her passion to make a difference.  “My passion is we love our community, but we also love the people of Haiti,” shared Brown.  She and others wanted to figure out a way to help people locally and beyond, and they are now able to do that through Many Hands Market, a thrift store that distributes proceeds where needed.  Brown encouraged the students by saying, “Every time you drop something off or buy something, you are part of a community of people making a difference locally and globally.”

Following Brown’s presentation, students broke up into smaller groups and got a glimpse of PBL in action.  Each 6th grade team teacher created a project of their own that they presented to their students as an example.  Robinson believes this was helpful to better prepare resources to assist the students with their PBL tasks.

The students shared their initial thoughts about the ensuing experience.  “It’s a good way for us to express our passion and the things we love,” said Jasper.  Matthew added, PBL is a great way to express and tell people about our passions and determine a way to use it to help others.”

To launch PBL in 7th grade, students were given a list of questions to help guide them toward an area of interest also known as an academy.  The different “academies” include Fine Arts, Math, Community, Science, Business, Fitness and Social Science.  Once in their academies, students immediately engaged in research. 

While visiting with students about why they selected Mrs. Druvenga’s Fitness Academy, Kage said, “Because I like to be active.  I think it is fun to go out and exercise and be happy.”  Another student, Parker said, “I like to be active and play sports.”   Upon asking Drew what he thought of PBL, he responded, “It is making me think harder and to not be scared to present in front of people.”  Makenna added, “We get to expand on topics that we don’t usually get to learn about.”

Over the next couple of weeks, students will spend time planning and developing their projects with the end goal of presenting the project during conferences.  Students in 8th grade will also have the opportunity to engage in PBL, but their launch will occur later in the school year.