The Stepping Stones to a Lifelong Learner

June 13, 2016

img0474Cassidy Riddle – 4th Grader – Washington Discovery
Academy, Plymouth, Indiana

With New Tech Network’s Project-Based Learning (PBL), there is never just one correct answer. Students are encouraged to question and propose a variety of responses to help them
engage with a topic and gain a passion for lifelong learning.

Cassidy Riddle enjoys learning new things by working on projects. A 4th grader at Washington Discovery Academy (part of the NewTech Network) in Plymouth, Indiana, ten-year-old Cassidy offers the perspective of a student who attended a traditional school from K-2 and a New Tech school for grades 3 and 4.

Her absolute favorite project at Washington Discovery Academy is the Pumpkin Drop. “We had a box with a pumpkin in it, and we had to cushion the box before giving it to our teacher who would drop it from the top of a fire truck ladder. We used sponges and newspapers for padding, and foam for sturdiness. We wanted to fix it so the pumpkin could not move,” explained Cassidy. Thankfully, Cassidy’s pumpkin survived.

Reflection is a key component in Project-Based Learning. As strong evidence of how the students are learning the skill of reflection, even the groups with pumpkins that did not survive the ladder drop worked on a redesign to see what they did wrong and how they could improve. “We had to write a blog as well as a paper about how we did and how we worked as a group,” said Cassidy. “In my group, we worked together and everyone had a job so no one was left out.”

Even in more challenging group situations like slow boats where the students created ‘drag’ to make the boats go slow, everyone wanted to use their own ideas. “Everyone put down their ideas and then it was all combined in one plan so everyone feels their ideas were used,” continued Cassidy.

“Right now we are learning about electric circuits and how electricity works,” explained Cassidy. “We are learning how to make a door alarm and build levers and switches. It really does help me learn about electricity this way because it lets me see how I can build something like this. And working in groups helps us learn from each other.”

At the beginning of each project, Cassidy’s class reads a book about the project. “Then we make a chart about what we know and what we ‘need to know’. For example, we needed to know how to make the electricity flow and what are conductors and insulators.”

At the conclusion of each project, students at Cassidy’s school make presentations. Cassidy admits to being nervous about presentations when she was in the 3rd grade but feels much more confident today. “Now I feel more educated so I’m not as scared of doing it,” she said.

Communication, to Cassidy, means understanding and listening to others, something that’s very important when working on a group project. “Today we are working on the designs we made for the circuit board,” she said. “We each drew our own board and then put the drawings together in a group. We used the redesign function.”

At times the classroom experience can be daunting especially at the start of a new project. But once the project begins, Cassidy is just excited. “I feel overwhelmed at the start of a new project, but then get more excited as we begin the work. I feel confident after I finish a project. I feel like I am learning more. Here we work on something for a week or two so we know what we are learning. The teachers make sure we understand the subject we are learning.”

Washington Discovery Academy Principal Jeff Spencer can see Cassidy’s growth from 3rd to 4th grade since she served as a school tour guide multiple times. “I saw the difference from September when Cassidy was a tour guide to January when she served again in that role,” said Spencer. “These students are experiencing examples of Deeper Learning and applying knowledge learned in one project to another. I am excited to see the learning that is taking place in the classroom, and I know the skills Cassidy is learning now will serve her for the rest of her life.”

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