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Project Based Learning sparks excitement for students, teachers at Timber Trail Elementary

MIchele Radke

CASTLE PINES – While it is not something that is officially proclaimed on the side of the building or even within the school, Timber Trail Elementary is slowly becoming a Project Based Learning (PBL) School.

You only need to walk through Timber Trail’s halls or visit a few classrooms to see the excitement surrounding the projects that are underway during this trial year of PBL. The fifth-graders alone are Dancing through 110 years of dance and looking for ways that they can change the world.

“When I wake up, I'm like 'yes, I get to go to school today, because I get to work on my project based learning.’ It's really fun,” said fifth-grade student Isabella Holsman.

She says that the hands-on projects captivate her and her classmates, much more effectively than the old textbooks, worksheets and lectures. Their excitement about the projects is evident. Isabella says that is what makes them more interested in the lesson and therefore more likely to remember what is being taught.

“It sticks in our heads because, instead of learning something and writing it down on a piece of notebook paper, it sticks in our brain because it revolves around a fun project,” said

Timber Trail wasn’t looking to change its educational programming. Radke says the school has long been known for its excellence, especially when it comes to state test results. She, however, realized that was not what most people wanted to know about.

“One of the moments that it changed for me was we have our student council give tours to families. When they'd walk the families around the school, I wondered what they were sharing with the families,” Radke explained. “I never heard them share anything about TCAP scores.”

“I wanted to share that they were excited about school, that they're engaged with their learning and share what they were learning, but I was not sure that was happening,” Radke said.

The school was already engaged in improving instruction through backward planning and it became clear that PBL was a natural fit with that work.

“As we got into backward planning it seemed that PBL fit with that really well. We felt like we could take that further.  We thought we could make it that authentic, engaging learning activities,” Radke said.

The school paid for a group of teachers to go to a PBL conference, held at Sage Canyon Elementary, a school that has really led the way in this area. The staff agreed to try a couple projects with their students this year, as a trial of PBL at Timber Trail.

“It is just like that spark. It starts and then the fire just has gone through the building,” Radke said.

She says the energy in the building is different now, because not only students are excited about the projects, but their teachers are too.

“Some of them have shared their experience with Radke saying “’it has sparked me. [It was] the thing that I needed to kick me, to get me going, the spark to get me going again.’ They're engaged and they're thrilled about teaching again.” 

Others have said that they wish that PBL was around when they were in school. 

“I get emotional about it sometimes, to think about how far we've come and what great things we're doing here,” Radke said.

March 6, 2014 | By rmbarber | Category:

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