Canadian Valley Technology Center Involved In Project-Based Learning
Tuttle ULearn Academy coach Daneice Foster helps Evan Loyd of Rush Springs operate a laser engraving machine. The ULearn Academy was launched by CVTC to spark project-based learning at area schools
By Bill Kramer, For The Oklahoman • Published: January 10, 2015
YUKON — Coaches in the classroom – that's the vision Don Wilson, Ph.D., has for public education.
Not X's and O's in the athletic sense, but celebrating success in the academic sense.
Wilson, coordinator of educational technology at Canadian Valley Technology Center, says it's time to rethink traditional lecture-based classrooms.
"The big challenge is that teachers have an ideal concept of what it means to teach, and in many cases, it works just fine," Wilson said. "But to try to truly engage a person in their own learning, the teacher has to give them control, and many of us aren't comfortable with that."
The student-centered concept known as project-based learning is not new but has the potential to be revolutionary for education, he said.
Wilson and Scott Charlson, CV Tech's professional development coordinator, launched the ULearn Academy last year with seven area school districts.
Charlson builds the ULearn Academy Framework for project-based learning at each site for students of all ages. Engagement with students is done within the school day and afterward, Charlson said.
Projects include robot construction with first graders, greenhouse building and building a small computer called a Raspberry Pi. All the projects will be showcased in the spring at the inaugural ULearn Academy Maker Faire at the Grady County Fairgrounds.
The concept is catching on with other schools wanting to partner with Canadian Valley.
"Other schools see the benefits," he said. "The things they're learning have a connection to a career path for them, whether that be engineering or programming or robot building."
Charlson serves as a mentor for coaches in public schools. He also helps acquire resources students might need for projects.
Wilson said project-based learning is popular with teachers and students.
"Students are learners," Wilson said. "We want to impress upon them that their job is learning. This switches from a human presentation (by teachers) to literally talent developers."
California school offers blueprint
New Technology High School, an hour north of San Francisco, opened in 1996 as the first school based solely on the project-based learning model.
Instead of handing out daily assignments, teachers assign projects that require critical thinking, creativity, collaboration with classmates and communication. Its students graduate at a rate 14 percent higher than the national average. Nearly 10 percent more students enroll in college, and 83 percent complete a degree.
The blueprint has been applied at 80 other schools across the country.
Data from a 2014 telephone survey of more than 1,000 adults conducted on behalf of Everest College shows 52 percent of Americans listed active participation through hands-on training as the best learning method.
A project at Seattle's Garfield High has advanced government students debating one another, writing legislation, holding mock elections and arguing cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. The experiment began six years ago when government teachers paired with University of Washington researchers to alter advanced placement curriculum.
The results? Students in nearly 60 classrooms throughout Washington, Northern California and Iowa have scored as well or better on AP exams compared with classmates in the experiment's control schools that use traditional lecture-based learning.
Projects help students learn how to work independently and discover the answers to their own questions, Wilson said.
Project-based education traces its roots to John Dewey, a 20th-century American educational theorist and philosopher, who pioneered the concept of learning grounded in experience and driven by student interest and challenged traditional views of students as passive recipients of knowledge.
Joining the 'maker culture'
Wilson said project-based learning is tied to the maker movement, which can be described as learning by doing, and includes the developmental steps of brainstorming, inventing and designing, followed by building and improving, testing and improving again.
It gives students the opportunity to explore problems and challenges that have real-world applications, thereby increasing long-term retention of skills and concepts, he said.
Wilson came to Canadian Valley from the Midwest City-Del City School District, where he was director of technology. He has also been an English teacher, librarian and media teacher.
"Career Tech is built on the idea of learning by doing, and it works," Wilson said.
Canadian Valley students participate in unique project-based challenges, such as a Cyber Patriot competition in computer information systems or SkillsUSA competitions each year in nearly a dozen programs.
Students in college-prep programs such as biomedical sciences and pre-engineering at the Dr. Earl Cowan Campus in Yukon collaborate in project-based education through Project Lead the Way curriculum. This ranges from CSI-type activities in biomedical sciences to building robots in pre-engineering.
Cowan Campus Director Greg Taylor said the unique programs give students a big advantage.
"The relevance is the answer to 'why' are we doing this," Taylor said. "It provides the key to unlocking the rigor.
"That connection ensures that Canadian Valley students in biomedical and pre-engineering reach a high level of achievement and can function successfully at the collegiate level. Students who make the connection with rigor and relevance discover there is no limit to what can be achieved."
Bill Kramer, Communications and Marketing Coordinator
Canadian Valley Technology Center