Elementary students provide solutions to real-world challenges
November 8, 2017
Story and photos by Laurie Struna
In Sharisse Nunes’ sixth-grade Falcon Hill Elementary class, students are deep in discussion about the engineering design process. They imagine, create and build miniature chair prototypes based on their simulated clients’ needs. The room bubbles with excitement, as Nunes masterfully guides her pupils through the lesson, using project-based learning (PBL) methodology.
“I want you to imagine you are a carpenter hired by your client to build a chair,” Nunes tells the class. “Think about their needs. This isn’t a standard chair that you can purchase at the store. How is your chair going to be unique? Please get into teams and discuss your ideas.”
After lively conversation, students sketch ideas on paper, then work as a team to build models using pipe cleaners, toothpicks and model clay.
Preparing students for the real world
Last year, Falcon Hill implemented the pilot program that teaches students to identify and provide solutions to real-world problems, enabling students and educators to reach beyond the school building.
Students gain knowledge and skills by learning to investigate and respond to complex questions and challenges. PBL aligns with state standards, ensuring students are equipped with the soft skills needed to collaborate with a team. Students learn while thinking critically and harnessing their creativity and imagination to solve 21st century world challenges. Students start by exploring concepts such as color wheel personalities, learning styles and growth mindset to discover their personal styles. This also helps them recognize peers’ traits, allowing them to work cohesively with others.
“The very mention of PBL gets students excited,” Nunes said “Each project meets a world need, has a focus topic that’s relative to student learning, sets up a realistic scenario, and involves tools, tasks and processes used by adults.”
Upon completing a project, Nunes says students have a better understanding of the content presented, retain learned information longer and are able to apply knowledge to new situations.
“The old way of learning is to sit in the class, memorize material and try to pass a test,” says Dr. Lisa McCray Cannon, Falcon Hill principal. “Adults live in a world of projects, whether it’s a job assignment, home improvement project, or planning a wedding or function. PBL educators serve as a coach, guiding students to use a variety of resources and strategies that are fun and motivate students to take ownership of their learning.”
For more information about project-based learning, visit mpsaz.org/falconhill/pbl.