Students at ECO started their first day of school window shopping through subject areas to build their schedule for the semester. Subject areas include:
- Auto tech,
- Auto collision,
- Sustainable technologies,
- Greenhouse management/aquaponics,
- Environmental science & natural resource management.
After observing such a harmonious catalyst for the new school year, one would wonder what is behind this project based learning voodoo. I thought I would pick the brain of Dana Richards, acting principal of ECO, to share how his vision evolved. Turns out, there is some sanity to this madness.
- Dana Richards
Did you catch that last line? It is a learning opportunity for the teacher.
Unlike conventional education where courses are segregated, the project based learning design promotes teacher culture by requiring them to collaborate. So, teachers are encouraged to cross disciplines because they are bonded by the students and theme of the project. Ultimately, it challenges both teachers and students to critically think and holistically strategize to promote academic success.
“First they will ask why you’re doing it; Later they’ll ask how you did it.”
I finalized my discussion with Dana, asking how he did it and what recommendations he might have for those that might have interest in early based college with a project based learning approach. He stressed the rewards are great but planning is an equally great task that requires disciplined work and attention to detail. Using this approach, expect to encounter paradoxes that will challenge the backbone of the model. For instance, the greatest buy-in is for students who already value the opportunity being offered to them. However, the greatest gain is generated from students that are most at risk (drop out, social delinquencies, and other social determinants). In other words, when you have a student who was at risk of going to jail saying “I belong,” one realizes that for many students the greatest gain at ECO is security and belonging. For some youth, that moment of finding belonging, is their first day of school - ever.