Imagine second-graders designing a new outdoor classroom for themselves, not just a place they dream of spending time in, but one that could actually be built.
Or imagine fourth-graders studying traditional music before composing and recording their own folk songs, making them available for download online.
Teachers in Portola Valley imagined just those projects, and many more, this summer as part of two workshops for 37 teachers and administrators. They were studying project-based learning, in which students learn multiple academic subjects while doing broad-based projects, often working in teams.
During the coming school year, every Ormondale and Corte Madera teacher will have their students work on at least one project, with a plan to show the end results to parents and the community in the spring.
Second-grade teachers Debbie Grech and Adam Ahlbach developed the outdoor classroom project. They plan to have students research design options and material costs, interview students and staff about their needs, and talk to local architects. Each team will create a design, write up a proposal and present it.
The teachers said the project will probably be done in phases and could take two or three years to complete.
It may not be obvious at first glance, but by working on the project, the second-graders will actually be studying math, language arts, science, social studies and art as well as using technology, said district Superintendent Lisa Gonzales.
The superintendent said teachers and administrators are excited about the concept, which she believes will help students become "creative, passionate learners who are connected, contributing global citizens."
Ms. Gonzales said students must use entrepreneurship, teamwork and problem-solving to complete the projects. "This helps better prepare students for future learning, skills needed in jobs, and beyond," she said.
Juliet Green, who teaches fourth- to eighth-grade music at Corte Madera School, designed a project that also involves younger students. Her fourth-graders will research and learn traditional children's songs. Next they will compose and record songs, using input and feedback from 5- to 6-year-olds.
"Songs they've created will then be available on iTunes and other music services, just like professional composers," Ms. Green said. By the end of the unit, she said, students will have the skills to create and distribute their own music, "which is a very exciting prospect for them."
Superintendent Gonzales said that project-based learning is meant to provide students with skills that employers want, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration.
"We must develop new ways to motivate and teach this generation," she said.
Ms. Gonzales said that Portola Valley wants students to become life-long learners, productive workers, and active citizens. "No matter the grade level or subject area," she said, "real-world relevance in learning is critical."
When students do projects based on academic content "students learn how to take responsibility and build confidence, solve problems, work collaboratively, communicate ideas, and be creative innovators," she said.