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Taking Flight With Project-Based Learning

Blue Ash students test their wrecking balls during PBL It’s the first day of school. Inside the Media Center at Blue Ash Elementary, third-grade students are rushing around with arms full of straws, tape, string, and apples. They’re chatting excitedly, sprawling out on the floor over hand-drawn designs. This doesn’t look like your typical school library.

Media Center Specialist Jennifer Kolde has challenged students to design and build a wrecking ball capable of knocking over a group of markers. The sky's the limit, but students have five minutes to get into groups, decide on a design, pick out their materials, and test and tweak their prototypes, learn from their failures, and celebrate their successes together. This is what the education world calls project-based learning. 

Sycamore Schools has embraced the innovative educational philosophy across all grade levels and subject areas. Project-based learning (PBL) encourages a return to “learning by doing” rather than focusing on book-learning. 

Project-based learning is a dynamic classroom approach which puts students in the center as they actively explore real-world problems,” said Kelly Wegener, curriculum director. “Students learn the standards at a deep level through projects that involve choice, inquiry, and student ownership.”

Students learn critical-thinking, problem-solving, and group collaboration that in the last era of primary education were learned in college or on the job. PBL also inspires a love of learning that classical teaching styles may not stir in all types of students. Students can absorb concepts that book learning offers but do it by creating something tangible.

At E.H. Greene Intermediate, about half of the teachers are utilizing this teaching method this school year.

“Teachers create a driving question for kids based on their interests and then they wrap the standards they have to teach around it. Students get to produce something that’s authentic to them that shows they’ve mastered the standards.” Matt Tudor, principal, said. “Our teachers value relationships above all else and I think that really helps kids feel comfortable here. They’re willing to take risks and that’s when you see kids step out and be able to produce things we never did when we were in school.”