Project-based learning (PBL)—open-ended, student-directed projects that draw on multiple academic areas—is flourishing at Carroll this year, thanks to “Gec Washman” and the new schedule. “During the Flex Block, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders rotate between three 10-week blocks: skill work, TCI, and project-based learning,” explains Todd Bearson, head of PBL at the Middle School.
Each Middle School grade is tackling one question, with groups pursuing answers in ways they design. “Seventh grade considered ‘what is waste, and what can we do about it?’” says Bearson, noting that groups approached the question from varying vantage points. “One created a pamphlet about different kinds of waste, which involved data manipulation and graph reading. One group examined waste through legislation, looking at the Clean Air and Water Act. Another built a composter from scratch, which required all sorts of mathematical and scientific work. It was a rich experience.”
Sixth graders began their PBL unit mid-November. “They are asking, ‘what are the most important parts of a sustainable community?’ Ultimately, they will create proposals to bring to the Board of Trustees on how Carroll can reduce its energy usage,” he says.
Project-based learning is a great fit for Carroll School, according to Bearson. “Kids are more interested because they’re directing their own learning. It plays to the dyslexic advantage. If someone’s a musician, he can write a song about it. If another is good with her hands, she can build something. The work is more authentic; students apply the skills they’re learning immediately and know exactly why they’re doing what they’re doing. As a result, they retain what they learn much longer.”
But the biggest benefit of all? “So much of what we do at Carroll, understandably, is about addressing students’ weaknesses,” Bearson concludes. “Project-based learning allows us to address their strengths.”
- Project-Based Learning