Project Based Learning

Project Based Learning at Career Tech

Amidst the many challenges of the 2020-21 school year, there have also been many examples of creativity, resourcefulness, flexibility and cooperation at Career Tech. New challenges bring new ideas, and at Career Tech, educators work collaboratively to bring the best possible learning experience to students. This fall, we began exploring methods to improve both student engagement and achievement across multiple subjects. While we had our hands full with moving entirely to remote instruction, we also recognized that this was an opportunity to shift some of our work in a new direction and in the process improve engagement in the remote learning environment. When we return to in-person instruction, these same principles will remain and enrich the coursework into the future.

What is Project Based Learning?

Project based learning has taken different forms at Career Tech over the years. For instance, many of our students can tell you about work they’ve done on outdoor science, woods and metals, or outdoor recreation management crews. Some of these projects focused on conservation efforts and supported scientific research. Other students have worked with community partners flying drones to map vegetation through our Career & Technical Education Natural Resources program. Students acquire and apply new knowledge and skills while working on such projects.
Does project based learning only happen outside where we have access to equipment and tools? No, in fact, project based learning can happen almost anywhere—in classrooms, from home, or in an office setting.

This spring, a group of students enrolled in Career Tech’s first project based learning math course which applies many of the same principles as an outdoor learning experience: students work on a problem or problems, acquiring and applying new knowledge and skills in order to develop solutions. While the work currently occurs in a virtual meeting space, students are working together to solve a number of problems that are relevant to their lives and that also meet standards for high school level Algebra.

What does a math class look like using Project Based Learning?

Led by Jason Nelson, whose versatility and creativity were key to pulling together the project, a significant amount of work went into developing the project based learning course. With support from a team of educators, and using projects derived from PBLWorks, Jason wove three distinct projects into a coherent single-semester course aligned with state standards for Algebra. The common thread, or theme, linking these projects together is personal finance and includes the real cost, over time, of purchasing a car; financial planning that includes establishing goals and developing investment and savings plans; and as business owners, finding profitable price points for products based on cost and demand.

Why is Career Tech investing in Project Based Learning?

The research supports project based learning as an effective educational approach for several reasons. First, project based learning promotes active student engagement in the learning process—that is, it can help motivate students by building interest in the topics being studied. Second, it contributes to the acquisition of 21st century skills that prepare students for success in future careers. These include skills such as communication, collaboration and critical thinking. Third, like other instructional approaches, PBL builds content knowledge and has been shown to help students acquire the knowledge needed for high school graduation and to prepare students to continue their learning in college, advanced training programs and careers.

What’s next for Project Based Learning at Career Tech?

We will be providing professional development for all staff on project based learning this spring and then providing follow-up support and coaching next school year as teachers begin integrating project based learning into their courses or expanding projects they’ve already created.

We will also be looking at the results of the pilot project to gather data about what went well and where to make improvements. Stay tuned as we learn and share in this exciting endeavor together!