Getting Barbie to bungee jump became one fun way for Tammy Davis to involve her class in a new style of learning.
The Grade 5 teacher at Maryview School is participating in an research project that Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools is involved in. It’s called Career and Technology Foundations — a project funded by the provincial government to see if Grade 5s to Grade 9s do well with project-based learning.
It allows students to discover and explore their own interests and passions and build skills so they may make reasonable career choices in the future.
Davis is enthused by the learning she’s seen so far. One of the four projects she devised centred on having the Barbie doll bungee jump — in a safe way.
“They had to see how many rubber bands it would take to fly Barbie off the classroom door without hitting her head, and getting as close as possible,” said Davis.
They graphed what they thought might happen and then on the last day, they tested their theories.
That project was to get the students excited about project-based learning, said Davis.
This style of learning allows students to discover a lot of information, rather than having a teacher instruct them. There is some direct instruction, but a lot of it involves inquiry and through this, they are covering the curriculum objectives, she added.
The classroom’s latest assignment focuses on environmental design.
They are designing gardens. The students work in small groups so they have a lot of choice in how they’re going to come up with their project.
She said the students enjoy it.
“They say, ‘I wish we could do this all day,’ ” said Davis.
Red Deer Catholic’s Brenda MacDonald, curriculum co-ordinator, and Paul Couillard, teacher and project leader for CTF, have been working with Alberta Education and the other school district involved, Calgary Board of Education, on this project for two years.
The two school districts were successful in getting a government grant.
MacDonald said that project-based learning is a systematic teaching method.
It brings relevance and a real life context to the curriculum.
It’s an inter-disciplinary approach to learning.
It can be done within options classes or within the regular curriculum.
Students work together but also become independent workers, critical thinkers and risk takers.
This combination of strategic planning by the teachers and completion of these authentic projects has students excited about school and learning, said MacDonald.
The whole idea is to explore what kind of careers they might be interested in, added Couillard.
“It leads into the high school Career and Technology Studies program so when they get into the high school, then they are able to concentrate more on the career path they want to take,” he said.
“It allows kids to explore their interests and their passions and the skills that they have — and get those personal connections to career possibilities,” said MacDonald.
Sixteen teachers at eight schools within the Red Deer Catholic district are involved. The participating schools are: St. Patrick’s Community School, St. Francis of Assisi Middle School, St. Thomas Aquinas Middle School, École Camille J. Lerouge School, Maryview School, École Mother Teresa School in Sylvan Lake, St. Marguerite Bourgeoys School in Innisfail, and St. Gabriel Online School/John Paul II Catholic Outreach School.
MacDonald said they have one more year in the project and that Red Deer Catholic is seriously considering moving the program, after the grant is done, within all of its middle schools.