Education News

Project-based learning boosts student morale

Project-based learning boosts student morale

Beyond-the-classroom instruction is making a difference in student learning and morale in one Oregon school.

It didn’t take long for Tom Horn, principal at Al Kennedy Alternative School in Cotton Grove, Ore., to realize that this group of at-risk students needed something more than remediation and textbooks to learn. To boost morale and student engagement, Horn revamped the curriculum that allowed students to use the community as an outdoor classroom.

The project-based learning is working in this community. Although student performance is still below the state’s average, student attendance has jumped from 23% to 90% and the dropout rate has dipped as well.

The area’s resources led to projects focused on sustainability: agriculture, energy, forestry, architecture, or water. The theme-focused projects allow student cohorts to concentrate on projects that benefit the community and inspire a different style of learning that extends beyond the classroom.

“You never know when [students] will take off like fireworks and get excited about something,” said Vickie Costello, who teaches the water cohort. Having a static group “allows me to extend a lesson or end it and come back to it the next day and get them up and active. So many lessons lend themselves to being outside.”

Despite the obstacles and challenges to raise student scores, Horn’s project-based model is working at his small school. He believes with continued work, the model will continue to succeed and can be replicated at other schools.

Read more about this story at Education Week.

Photo Courtesy: Chris Pietsch for Education Week
Kennedy School of Sustainability Principal Tom Horn, center, directs students as they care for a tank of tilapia that they are raising at the school as a food source. Achievement and attendance at the school have both increased since Horn reorganized the curriculum around environmental project-based learning.