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Project-based learning at qathet Regional District school instills passion in students

"It’s inspiring for me to see that they really are these autonomous human beings who are able to take on learning on their own.” ~ Kelly Creek Community School teacher Davis Steele
RAISING FUNDS: Kelly Creek Community School students [from left] Maeve Stevens, Kaitlyn McSween and Annabelle Shostak donated money raised from an art gallery project at the school to the Powell River Chapter of BC SPCA. The donation came out of the students’ initiative in project-based learning, which the school has taken on to inspire students to learn more about their passions.

Project-based learning is helping Kelly Creek Community School students learn through their own motivations.

Kelly Creek teacher Davis Steele said the idea of project-based learning involves inspiring students through their own interests.

“We challenge them to take on enquiries that are based around a driving question – something that they are interested in,” said Steele. “That looks different at different grade levels. The fundamental philosophy is that if students are pursuing topics of interest to them, then they are going to be authentically engaged.

“They are going to naturally take on learning and naturally find the parts of the curriculum that they are interested in. They will start learning more enthusiastically than if we were to put worksheets in front of them. They will challenge themselves rather than having the teacher say they want to challenge them.”

The approach to getting students involved in project-based learning looks different for different grade levels. Steele said grade six and seven students are probably ready to say: “this is what I’m really interested in and I want to take a deep dive into this.” In kindergarten, students don’t have that narrowed mindset yet, so it may be more teacher-directed, he added.

All students in the school are involved in project-based learning. Where they carry out their learning is varied.

Steele said project-based learning has been around for a long time. It is a popular idea in education and he believes the Kelly Creek project is the first formally outlined program in School District 47, he added. However, he said that in classrooms throughout the school district, teachers are carrying out project-based learning.

“Sometimes, it happens in math class or digital media arts,” said Steele, adding that it can be an extension of classroom activity based on the initiative of the teacher and interest of the students.

“We want kids to love learning. Sometimes, we fall into a trap of thinking a lot about the curriculum. Students have to learn the curriculum and we can forget the real goal is to inspire them to love learning and to have them leave school and continue learning their entire lives.”

Love of learning

Steele said having a love of learning is at the heart of project-based learning. For older students, he wants them to tell him what they are interested in, and then a guiding question can be generated, which will set the stage for a longer inquiry.

“For example, in the grade six and seven class here, I phrased it as passion projects,” added Steele. “A bunch of different things happened. An intramural volleyball class happened. They set up the nets, they had to have referees and teams. It was all organized by the students.

“One of the groups decided they wanted to do an art gallery, so they found a social cause they were interested in and did a gallery and donated all of the proceeds. They did that for the SPCA.”

Steele said while that was rolling, the war in Ukraine began, and students wanted to provide support, so they found a way to donate to someone who was providing relief for stray animals. He said the students raised almost $500 and split it between the SPCA and Ukraine.

Other student activities include a sewing project, where students repair worn-out clothing items to save them from being discarded, while another class is creating a book to help inform the school about the plants and fungi found on the school’s grounds.

Steele said Fridays are project-based learning days at the school, and he interacts with the students, providing guidance.

“I notice that when they walk in, they just get going,” said Steele. “They sit down, grab a laptop and they don’t really require me to stand in front of them and let them know what is going on. They come in knowing exactly what they are going to do. It’s a good sign that things are going in the right direction.”

Classroom collaboration

Steele said regular classroom teachers are collaborating and it’s good for students to have extra space to work on the things they are passionate about.

Students do not receive a formal grade for their project-based learning endeavours. He said part of the philosophy of this style of learning is that grades aren’t really a helpful piece.

“That is something that can harm the love of learning,” said Steele. “While I don’t give them a grade, I encourage them to reflect, sometimes in writing. That’s their evaluation.”

Steele said for him, coordinating project-based learning has been a huge uptick in his own learning, seeing how students can really motivate themselves.

“It’s inspiring for me to see that they really are these autonomous human beings who are able to take on learning on their own. We can be more of a mentor, guide, or facilitator. We don’t always have to stand in front of them or look over their shoulders. They can take on a lot on their own.”