Middle school tries out new instruction program
December 26, 2012
ADAMS TWP — The Mars School District is trying out a new instruction program that officials hope will teach students the skills they will need for the world of work. Matt Friedman, assistant superintendent, said nine teachers at the middle school are using project-based learning in their classrooms. If the program proves successful, Friedman said, it will be expanded in the middle school and eventually to all buildings in the district. Friedman said project-based learning allows students more hands-on learning with less emphasis on taking notes, followed by a test. Friedman said the method teaches skills such as working together, critical thinking and analytical thinking. “If you talk to employers, they say those are some of the skills they look for that are hard to find,” Friedman said. He said in project-based learning, students learn to delegate, follow group rules and work collectively as well as independently. One project-based learning assignment is occurring in the eighth grade social studies classroom of Jason Thompson. In it, 22 students are working in six groups to create presentations touting Revolutionary War exhibits they would like to place in a fictional museum. Each group includes an exhibit leader who researches and designs the exhibit, an education developer who develops and provides information for tour guides and visitors, a communication director who creates and implements marketing for the exhibit, and a project manager who is responsible for the overall planning and execution of the project. Thompson said the first step in the project was traveling to the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, where students worked with professionals in the positions included in the project. “That is how we came up with the project’s titles, because those are the jobs at (the Heinz History Center,)” Thompson said. “We tried to make this as close to real life as we could make it.” The students then searched the Smithsonian Institution website to pull Revolutionary War pieces for use in their presentation. The end product will be 10-minute group presentations today that will effectively be requests to come and visit the groups’ exhibits. Thompson said the presentation will include websites created by the groups to tout their exhibits, as well as brochures, advertisements and a virtual tour of their exhibits. A panel of judges will include Mars School Board President Dayle Ferguson, school board member Rita Dorsch, Friedman, middle school Principal Rich Cornell, and the outside consultant who is assisting Mars with implementing project-based education. Thompson said a winner will be chosen by the judges. Thompson said project-based education will better prepare students for future careers. “It’s an authentic task done in the real world,” Thompson said. “Students try to solve a problem or answer a question.” He said in his classroom, the question was, “What can Americans learn from the Revolutionary War?” Thompson said his young charges seem to enjoy the format. “Student motivation has dramatically increased,” Thompson said. “They love it.” Friedman said he knows of only one other school district, Fox Chapel, that is trying out the project-based learning method. He said Mars will use its pilot program in the middle school as a model when it is expanded to other schools. “We’re really trying to take the lead on this,” Friedman said.