PYC Arts & Technology High School Expands Project Based Learning Opportunities

by Janet Zahn, Director of Communications

Project-based learning is an instructional methodology that encourages students to learn and apply knowledge and skills through an engaging experience. – Maggie O’Brien, DefinedSTEM.com

Project-based learning unleashes a contagious, creative energy among students and teachers.
– Buck Institute for Education, PBLWorks.org

Project-based learning isn’t about building a replica of the Washington Monument. It’s about researching someone to honor, designing your own monument, and persuasively pitching a committee to build it. – Heather Wolpert-Gawron, Edutopia.org

Project-based learning (PBL) is not a new educational concept. “The human race has leveraged ‘learning by doing’ for thousands of years in all manners of ways,” writes Jason Krueger in The Real History of Project-based learning. Nor is it new to PYC Arts & Technology High School. PBL has been incrementally adopted in several PYC classrooms for the last couple of years.

David Tarleton

David Tarleton

This year, PYC is introducing PBL to more students, in more classes, in a slightly proscribed manner. “It’s a new way of learning for most of our students, and is still fairly new for many staff members,” said David Tarleton, PYC Director of Education. “We want to unwrap this in a way that allows students and staff to be successful, and ensures that projects meet standards and the expectations of the State of Minnesota.” 

Tarleton sees real benefits to PBL for PYC students, particularly in its emphasis on expanding learning beyond the walls of the school. PBL projects can require students to meet local business people, or interview community experts in their fields, or students may work with kids from another school. “When done properly, students develop great ties to their community,” said Tarleton.

“Project-based learning serves our students well because it gives them more voice and choice in the topics they

Nate Christen

investigate – and still connects them to standards,” said Nate Christen, an English teacher at PYC. “Because the learning is individualized, students can work more at their own pace, which means some students can move quickly and earn more credits, or if someone needs more time and support they can receive it.”  

PBL does present some challenges in the classroom. “There are a lot of different thing going on at the same time. For me that means a lot of floating, checking in, trying to provide as many supports as possible,” said Christen.

“Teachers are sometimes uncomfortable on the front side of things,” added Tarleton. “They lose a little control. They’re asked to be less the expert, and more the collaborator and facilitator.”

Shayanna Scott, a senior at PYC, thinks the hard part about Project-based learning is “staying on track. You don’t have the classroom structure, and it’s easy to get behind. You really have to learn how to manage your time.” But for Scott, the positives of PBL far outweigh the negatives. “It’s very flexible. There are more options for kids, and you can work independently. …It’s also really nice to see how other people learn and how others are thinking. You learn to be open minded and see different possibilities. It’s a good experience.”

Scott’s current project for English class involves a deep dive into August Wilson’s Fences. Christen has another student who’s chosen to study the importance of childhood literacy and intends to find funding for, and a place to install, a Little Free Library dedicated to childrens’ books.

“Student engagement is higher,” said Christen. 

“This method better prepares students for the kinds of work that they’ll be doing after high school.” 

Tarleton agrees. “We know that we have to find different ways to connect, involve and engage with our students. The traditional ways don’t always work. …When students are involved in designing their projects to meet their educational needs, with their own interests in mind, they have a greater connection and investment in their learning. That’s what we want for our students.”

Contact David Tarleton at 612-643-2025 or dtarleton@pcyc-mpls.org.

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