Program will prepare students for new high school set to open in 2018

Imagine students deeply engaged in the creation of their own middle school. They use their creativity to conceptualize and design the physical space, contemplating effective use of large and small group learning areas. They use their math skills to plan furniture design and placement. They master problem-solving as they work together and honor each other’s ideas and points of view. And finally, they use communication and presentation skills to unveil their plans to professional architects.

In today’s world of education, this concept is called project-based learning (PBL), and it’s proven to be a powerful teaching and learning model. And to students, it’s an exciting chance to explore real-world, practical solutions while building skills to use the rest of their lives.

With the opening  of the new PBL high school anticipated for fall 2018, the Camas School District will begin a similar program at the middle school level this fall. The middle school program will give younger students an opportunity to learn more about this type of learning environment and make an informed choice about attending the new high school program when the time comes.

Approximately 120 sixth and seventh graders will have the chance to attend the new program. Enrollment is open to all students, and there is no qualification process. (If more than 120 students choose to enroll, the district will implement a lottery system.) While project-based learning is appropriate for all types of learners, it’s especially effective for those who thrive in smaller learning environments, enjoy working on teams and prefer to connect with various subjects through hands-on, real-world experiences.

Students will continue to access Liberty and Skyridge for their electives, fitness/health, and extracurricular activities. Transportation will also be provided. Sixth and seventh grade teams will participate the first year, with expansion to eighth grade to follow. Teachers selected for the program are currently training and plan to lead a two-week summer camp where students will develop a walking tour of downtown Camas.

“The level of engagement in this kind of instructional approach is tremendously high,” says Skyridge Principal Aaron Smith who will take the helm at the new PBL middle school program.  “Powerful learning takes place when students have an authentic task where they can see an outcome that has a direct connection to their school and their community,” he adds.

While project-based learning has deep meaning and relevance to students’ lives, Smith explains that rigorous standards remain at the heart of the program. “Make no mistake, students in this program will have a lot of content to learn and will be assessed along the way,” he notes. In addition to traditional school subjects, students will be assessed on their development of communication, critical thinking, creativity and collaboration skills.