Project-based learning at Newton Country Day School

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At Newton Country Day School, the education is both traditional and innovative. While girls continue to learn how to write research papers, study for cumulative assessments, conduct scientific experiments, and make oral presentations, they are also embracing the many benefits of project-based learning.

"Project-based learning encourages students to engage with the content of classes for themselves," said Genevieve Fein, Newton Country Day's coordinator of educational innovation and a member of the Science Department. "It challenges them to connect class topics to real-world scenarios, roles, and products that makes their learning more memorable. It changes the role of the student from a passive learner to an active participant."

Project-based learning is a teaching method in which students learn by actively engaging in real-world and personally meaningful projects. Students conduct rigorous research, produce high-quality work, and share their creations with the community. The focus of project-based learning is deeper, innovative, and student-centered learning.

"Students may or may not remember what was on a test from last year," added Fein, "but they can tell you the most intricate details of what they had to do and learn to create a successful project."

Hallmarks of project-based learning include responding to a meaningful and challenging problem or question; engaging in a sustained process of inquiry; incorporating authentic contexts, tasks, and tools; expressing voice and choice in the project design; and engaging in critique and revision with peers and teachers. Projects conclude with students sharing, explaining, and presenting the finished product to classmates, faculty, and even people beyond the classroom.

"Each (Middle School) grade undertakes subject-integrated units of study, from "Poetry in Motion," a fifth-grade project combining dance and English in the study of Haiku poetry, to an eighth-grade project spanning the disciplines of English and science and exploring the "Sustainability Goals of the United Nations," said Dr. Deborah Tully, head of the Middle School. A real benefit to project-based learning is the growth we see in our students' skills in collaboration, communication, and problem-solving."

Other recent examples of project-based learning at Newton Country Day include:

Colonial Artifact Project: Fifth-grade history students write and design a Colonial newspaper.

Global Studies Frankenstein Trial: Tenth-grade students work in legal teams to prosecute or defend Frankenstein's monster, the creature created by Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley's novel. Students also take on the roles of witnesses, while faculty serve as the jury.

French 2 Video Project: Students produce a documentary about social classes, housing inequalities, and modern-day Parisians to tell a narrative story about the past.

Engineering Design Electrical Puzzle: Students work in teams to design, build, and program an electronic puzzle that responds to user input.

Geometry Architecture Project: Students work in teams to design a tiny house for "clients" from the school community.

"Student-centered pedagogies empower students to actively apply new knowledge and skills in purposeful ways," said Melissa Bleakney-Dalton, head of the Upper School. "Project-based learning, in particular, responds to the distinctly Sacred Heart call to social awareness impelled to action. Research also shows that project-based work facilitates deeper learning. Given the agency to pursue solutions of their own design, our students truly shine!"