Project-Based Learning: One school goes all the way

We’re excited about the project-based learning lessons we’ve included in this year’s Worldwide CHARACTER COUNTS! Week Resources. That’s because PBL has been shown again and again to be a successful strategy for motivating students, and for teaching important  real-life skills like critical thinking and problem solving.

So we were intrigued to see an article in Education Week about one school that takes project-based learning as far as it can go — throughout every lesson in the whole school. Principal Tom Horn took over the Kennedy Alternative School in Cottage Grove, Oregon, in 2006, when it was known as a “dumping ground” for teenagers who were failing in mainstream schools, and infamous as an uncontrollable drug market, and for having a zero percent pass rate of state standardized tests.

Horn transformed the institution by introducing an entirely new focus — sustainability — and getting kids out of the classroom and out doing real-world projects. Now, at Kennedy, “the school’s 93 students grow and donate produce, work with energy-efficient architecture, restore wetlands, participate in sustainable forestry initiatives, plant community gardens, teach elementary school students, build trails, raise salmon, plant trees, count fish and keep bees,” according to a profile last year in The Oregonian newspaper. Along the way, the students learn skills in math, reading, writing, and science, but perhaps even more importantly, for kids whose futures seem to be at risk, they learn skills in self-discipline, collaboration, problem solving, and critical thinking. They also get to interact with their community in positive ways, which increases confidence and gives a sense of purpose and mission to their work.

Today, state test pass rates are above 30 percent, and rising — a big jump from zero. Attendance is about 90 percent on any given day, in contrast to 23 percent in 2006. And the drop-out rate is sinking. We think that’s pretty inspiring.

Have you or your school experimented with project-based learning? What worked? What didn’t?

Photo Credit: The Oregonian