Today’s Contributor: Kent Hawes
Kent is the Director of Media & Technology at Travis Heights Elementary
One of the most exciting components of Blended Learning at Travis Heights Elementary School has been the use of project-based learning. (Sometimes this is referred to as problem-based learning.) Typically these activities revolve around a real world challenge or problem where students have to think outside of the box to accomplish while integrating core skills and concepts across multiple disciplines.
Especially for the younger grades these projects do not always require extensive technology. Students may explore resources located in their community such as the grocery store, the fire department, or the bank. Then students can draw the places they went or they could use an iPad to photograph the places on a local field trip. Either way they can take those items and create a book and more over a map identifying their route and important places in their community. These hands-on projects are a powerful tool for helping students connect with their world, practice writing, working through a map.
Upper grade students can may tackle more extensive challenges. Our projects have ranged from crafting election campaigns, to becoming inventors that create products that solve problems in the world, or developing awareness campaigns reinforcing kindness and non-discriminatory practices .
A unique and fun project this year for students in 4th grade was to create podcasts that mirrored radio broadcasts similar to those on National Public Radio, NPR. Students interviewed all sorts of people throughout the community focusing on how they originally came to Texas. The answers were wide-ranging and moreover extremely enlightening as our young learners experienced firsthand the stories of so many who were not born here, but came from all over the world.
Developing these instructional activities does take time. Often they include multiple Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills targets and multiple core disciplines interwoven together. History, computer skills, mathematics, writing, science, art can all be part of an effective project-based learning unit. In addition, students utilize valuable skills such as communication, collaboration, and detailed research to discover on their own answers to the guiding question or problem. It is truly amazing what solutions students will develop and ultimately communicate in their own voice.
With all the hard work that goes into designing these projects nothing brings it home better than being able to share with the entire Community. A very important part of our project-based learning is when we have our yearly campus community showcase event that allows students to display and communicate with an authentic audience about their learning. Nothing amplifies the experience and invigorates pride of ownership in the work then when students share what they have done as well as how they have done it.
Travis Heights Elementary is a one-of-a-kind campus that has been a leader in Blended Learning and Technology Applications over the past decade. As the first Austin ISD in-district charter school led by the community, Travis Heights Elementary prides itself on innovative instruction across its four pillars which include Whole Child, Multiculturalism, Project Based and Blended Learning.