Students and teachers from across Johnston County showcased their latest work at the district’s Project-Based Learning Expo.
Teachers across the district have been implementing Project-Based Learning (PBL) in all grade level classrooms as part of the Johnston County Public Schools JOCO 2020 strategic initiative.
The event, which was the first of its kind in JCPS, featured 24 presentations from 17 different schools. Hundreds of guests poured into the district’s West Campus Conference Center to see the PBL presentations.
According to Brittany Taylor, Director of Project-Based Learning and Digital Platforms, project-based learning is a way to make learning relevant for students by allowing them to explore and investigate real-world problems and questions.
Planning for the expo began five months ago, and it is part of a yearlong professional development program for teachers made possible by a partnership with the Research Triangle Institute (RTI) out of RTP.
“The benefit of project-based learning for students is that they actually get to explore and discover solutions to real-world problems that actually interest them,” said Taylor. “It allows them to be engaged in their learning.”
Byron McAllister, parent of rising Selma Elementary second grader Sara Victoria McAllister, said he came out to the expo to support his daughter, but he ended up staying for the entire event because he liked what he was seeing.
“I saw a lot of impressive projects, especially showcasing project-based learning,” said McAllister. “It’s amazing to see the innovative thinking that is coming out of Johnston County Public Schools in encouraging education and in teaching our young ones.”
According to Taylor, several of the projects presented at the expo really shined.
“We have students here that designed catapults, and with that they are having to look at trajectories, which actually makes the mathematics real for them,” said Taylor. “The biggest question in math class is always ‘When am I ever going to use this in real life?’ And our students have done that by designing these catapults and adjusting them in order to hit their targets.”
Princeton High School’s Luke Brush said he likes PBL because he is a hands-on learner, and for him it is hard to forget something he learned when he did it hands-on.
“My favorite project was making catapults,” said Brush. “We actually shot a video of us test firing it across the classroom. Easily 30 feet away, we made it first try. We were just so ecstatic. It was pretty awesome.”
Aurora Preston, South Johnston High School English Teacher, said she has enjoyed using PBL in her classroom, and it has helped her students grow in positive ways.
“I’m all about trying new things. This year my juniors, in lieu of a research paper, decided to write things that were relevant to students, as research papers are usually very boring in my experience,” said Preston. “I think reading old-school novels is just not the way that it is anymore, and it [PBL] helps my students to understand that in real life they’re going to have to read and write, and that skill has to be able to transfer not only to other classes but to their jobs or college.”
According to McAllister, his daughter’s experience with PBL in Selma Elementary’s Dual Language Program has helped her to learn Spanish and English.
“I think that project-based learning has pretty much hastened the rate at which she has been able to learn Spanish. It’s fun for her, and she is excited to do her projects,” said McAllister. “I have a child who is six years old, who can go into the grocery store and explain to me what somebody else said in Spanish, and that is impressive. She had not had any exposure to Spanish until about a year and a half ago, so it has been quite frankly fantastic and impressive to see what they’ve done with project-based learning at Selma Elementary.”
Taylor added that the district hopes to engage students in their learning more and help them to become problem solvers and critical thinkers because they are the future of our community.
“I think it’s important to share this with the public, so that our communities know what’s going on at our schools,” said Preston. “Our students are becoming prepared, and they’re doing things instead of just sitting and getting. They are actually participating in the classroom and creating things for the community, so that eventually when they graduate they can go out and be productive.”