Hands-on projects get students learning

Posted January 31, 2010 6:24 a.m. EST
Updated January 31, 2010 10:01 p.m. EST

Project Education: Edutopia, a partnership between WRAL-TV and the George Lucas Educational Foundation, shows a middle school in Maine that proves the theory that children learn best with working on projects.

King Middle School in Portland, Maine, faces what are commonly considered to be challenges: It's the state's most ethnically and economically diverse school. Twenty-eight languages are spoken there, and 60 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunch.

Students' scores used to rank in the bottom third in Maine. Then the school implemented a project-based curriculum called Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound.

"It really focuses on hands-on learning," teacher Scott Comstock said. "We try to integrate science, social studies, math and English with technology, with artwork, with community members, field work."

For example, seventh-graders produced a CD-ROM featuring Maine's endangered species.

Through digital production, students learned to collaborate and contribute their many different talents. In art, they painted scientifically accurate water colors of the animals. In video production class, the made a movie about the making of the CD-ROM.

"We learned about how animals and plants survive in Maine's harsh climate," a student explained during a presentation to parents, teachers and visiting experts.

"We're looking for ways for students to deepen their knowledge and work with their own knowledge, so that they can become the authors of their own learning," multimedia teacher David Grant said.

Since the Expeditionary Learning Outward Bound curriculum was adopted, students' test scores have leaped into the top third of the state.

"Our whole goal is that every student here can have access to high-quality learning and produce high-quality products," King Middle Principal Mike McCarthy said.

"One kid said, 'Nobody feels stupid around here anymore.' I think that was one of our highest achievements," McCarthy added.