Project-based learning gives students ‘real-world’ instruction

Shenandoah County’s public schools are using a fairly new instructional method in the classrooms called project-based learning.

Signal Knob Middle School in Strasburg is one area school using it, said seventh grade English teacher Annmarie Noonan.

“For the past two years at Signal Knob, our teachers have been required to implement at least one project per semester,” she said.

“The major difference between project-based learning and traditional instruction is that project-based learning fosters deeper learning in the classroom,” Noonan said. “The best thing about project-based learning is that it gives more meaning and purpose to my instruction.” Through these projects, she said, students “assume a real-world role and explore the driving question in order to find a solution.”

An example given at the Oct. 8 School Board meeting was on unsolved mysteries. A seventh grade English class was posed an unsolved mystery question. It stated, “How can we, as detectives, determine the facts in an unsolved mystery case so we can draw an accurate conclusion about what happened.” Students were asked to provide evidence based on research and draw a conclusion on an unsolved mystery.

Yet some challenges have arisen with the new teaching method.

“The biggest challenge with (project-based learning) so far has been making mistakes in the facilitation and organization of the projects,” Noonan said. “In a sense, it feels like I am a first- year teacher all over again.”

There’s a lot of trial, error and redesigning to make the content work best for students, and she said that students are also adjusting to the new style. They are trying to learn what the new expectations are with project-based learning. “This requires a great deal of collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking,” she said.

“The more that project-based learning permeates the classrooms of Signal Knob Middle School, the more our students are becoming familiar with the process, which allows them to make connections and successfully adjust to this method of instruction,” Noonan said.

She said the grading of these projects is also different than the grading of traditional exams. These projects use instructions that are not used when grading a multiple-choice test.

“Over time,” Noonan said, “we will certainly see an increase in student achievement as we transition to a project-based learning school.”

She said the school received a Moore Educational Trust grant for the 2014-2015 school year to train more than 20 staff members in project-based learning by the Think Forward Institute.

Contact staff writer Kaley Toy at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or ktoy@nvdaily.com