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Project Based Learning Grows at Derryfield

Emanne Khan '19
A good deal of learning continued to take place within the walls of Derryfield after the last students walked out the doors on June 4. Professionals from the Buck Institute for Education spent three days on campus during the second week of June, collaborating with Derryfield faculty members on how to integrate project based learning into the academic curriculum.

According to the Institute’s website, “our services, tools, and research are designed to build the capacity of K-12 teachers to design and facilitate quality project based learning.” While the title might sound complex, project based learning is simply an approach to education that relies heavily on the use of long term projects aimed at addressing real world problems.

Why project based learning? With the growing emphasis that Derryfield is placing on 21st Century education, “learning by doing” is the best way for students to develop a relevant, adaptable skill set that translates beyond the classroom.

Over the course of the three day workshop, faculty were introduced to the Buck Institute’s “Gold Standard PBL” methodology, which includes seven “essential” project design elements: challenging problem or question, sustained inquiry, authenticity, student voice and choice, reflection, critique and revision, and public product.

“Buck is excellent because they have done the research that led to this really interesting series of steps that engage students fully, intellectually, emotionally,” Dean of Academic Programs Lindley Shutz noted. “Students have choice in how they want to tackle a problem.”

Student-led project based learning can spark novel ideas and impactful change. Ms. Shutz recalled learning about a classroom that posed the question, “What made the Flint drinking water undrinkable, and what can we do about it?” The subsequent research and discovery that the students engaged in is now being implemented in efforts to address the crisis. Last year, a team of Derryfield seniors enrolled in Global Issues placed third in a UNH entrepreneurship competition with their design of portable garden boxes for refugees.

At the workshop, all teachers brainstormed possible projects that they might integrate into their curriculums. Advanced Topics courses will be required to contain a project based learning component. For example, Mr. Cousineau’s physics students will enter an amusement park ride design contest, researching and then presenting their designs.

“When students are provided autonomy and choice and motivated by intellectual curiosity and an emotional connection to the process, the learning is sustained," Ms. Shutz said. "When we learn in the process of applying our knowledge, we remember longer and we can apply the skills and content to new contexts."
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The Derryfield School

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