Page 31 - THE Journal, January/February 2018
P. 31

once they have completed it. So far, more than a third of the county’s 7,000 teachers have undergone the training.
Learning About Careers
In Kankakee — a high-poverty, high-minority school district located an hour south of Chicago — PBL is used to help students learn about various career paths, while also making instruction more active and engaging.
“We have a magnet program that has been around for 30 years, and we have a really strong gifted and honors program, but our general education students were not doing
as well academically,” said Superintendent Genevra Walters. “When I took the job as superintendent, I knew I needed to close the opportunity gap and restructure what was happening in these classrooms.”
Her solution was to create college and career academy classes for all elementary students. The classes are built around cross- curricular projects that focus on a different career path at each grade level. This year, for instance, first graders are studying agriculture, while fifth graders are learn- ing about the technical fields. “We want students to explore possible career paths
by doing what would be required in those particular jobs,” Walters said.
Beginning next year, students in grades 6-8 will engage in PBL to explore careers related to their individual interests. “That means
the teachers are going to have to differenti- ate what happens in the classroom because students in the same class may have different career interests,” she explained.
Students in the district’s Montessori school have experienced this kind of instruc- tion already, and the district is using this experience to inform its work in bringing this model to other middle school students.
Whereas Loudoun County is using BIE’s Gold Standard PBL model to provide structure for teachers, Kankakee is using the Defined STEM curriculum from Defined Learning. Teachers can modify and adapt these project-based lessons as needed for their own classrooms.
In one recent lesson, students interested in engineering constructed airplanes out of pa- per and other materials to see which designs would travel the slowest, fastest or farthest. As they experimented with different designs, they began to understand which design ele- ments led to certain characteristics of flight.
In another project, students became restau- rant owners tasked with planning an executive dinner for 100 people. They had to plan a theme for the dinner, design a menu, set up
a table arrangement, produce a cost analysis, work up a quote for the job and develop a presentation to secure the business. They also could choose from among other performance tasks, such as producing a radio ad, TV ad or website to promote their restaurant. The proj-
ect not only touched on multiple subject areas such as English and math, but it gave students valuable exposure to various professions: chef, business owner, event planner and marketer, among others.
To support teachers in moving to PBL, Kankakee will hold a showcase in January. During the showcase, every teacher will have to demonstrate a project they have already done, are currently working on or hope to complete by the end of the month.
Higher Engagement,
Deeper Learning
Using PBL in support of clearly defined in- structional goals is paying off for these two school systems. They report that students are more actively engaged and are spending more time on assignments, which is leading to deeper learning.
Williams described a project involving two high school biology teachers
who asked students to research the environmental impact of de-icing agents that are applied after snow and ice storms.
“Instead of just asking students to experiment and write a lab report, they arranged for students to share their thoughts with a wider audience,” he said, including local homeowners’ associations, reporters and representatives from the state Department of Transportation. “When the students realized they were going to present the findings of their scientific research to experts in the field and make the case for alternative de-icers, they really stepped up their game.”
In a video about Kankakee’s use of
PBL, one teacher described the benefits this way: “The kids are all focused. And they’re normally not like that. When they’re looking at a book, it’s hard to get them to concentrate. I think it’s the way to go if we want to get our students ready for real life.”
And when a Kankakee student was asked what he likes most about learning through projects, he said: “They get your mind thinking.”
Dennis Pierce has been writing about technology and education for 20 years.
Kindergartners in Loudoun County work on games designed to stimulate the minds of orangutans.

   29   30   31   32   33