Students need S-P-A-C-E to learn

I was recently introduced to Challenge Success, which is an organization that works with schools to help create balance and academic fulfillment for students. One of their cornerstones is based on the notion that students need SPACE to learn. SPACE is an acronym for five practices that can help change a student’s experience of school:

S – Students’ use of time

P – Project-based learning

A – Alternative and authentic assessments

C – Climate of care

E – Educate parents, students and faculty

It is worth viewing the recommended SPACE policies and ideas that can positively influence a student’s experience of high school.

Interestingly, we have been advocating for these same principles (minus the fancy acronym!) and planning for many of the recommendations for our new high school. It is rewarding to see how our efforts are aligning with recommendations from the research base for school success.

Of particular interest is focus “C” on developing a caring community for students in which they feel safe and appropriately challenged to learn. This is so central to our plans for Monroe Christian High School, as it is in a Christian community-based learning environment that discipleship and student development can occur. Our high school students need community and a caring advising system in which teachers will get to know their students in order to help them succeed academically  We don’t believe that a fully online, virtual high school will lead to the type of academic and personal growth that we desire for our high school graduates. We remain committed to the deliberate blending of on-campus learning experiences and positive relationships with the best that online learning options may offer for high school studies.


Barseghian, T. – Why kids need schools to change

The culminating project

A current WA high school graduation requirement is some form of a culminating project.  Theoretically, this project should be student initiated and serve as an important capstone achievement to document student learning while at high school.

Gardner (2011) tells of her school’s implementation of the “senior project.” She describes the project as a relevant, rigorous, and authentic assessment. It serves to strengthen connections with the local community and has become a “student-driven rite of passage” to celebrate one’s high school experience.  While completed in a student’s senior year, it is, actually, a demonstration of skills and knowledge acquired throughout high school, if not throughout all the K-12 years.

The process  includes:

  1. Students begin the project by selecting a topic of their choice. They are asked to describe the topic and explain how this will expand their learning in a letter that must be submitted and then approved in committee.
  2. The student then addresses the “4 P’s”: paper, project, portfolio, and presentation throughout the year.
  3. Paper – The students write a thesis-driven research paper on their topic. It includes has a specified length, a required number of references, appropriate visuals, and must include a report on an interview with an expert associated on the topic. Once the paper is approved, students can proceed to the next ‘P’.
  4. Project – Students then spend some time gathering data or conducting a field experience with a mentor in the field/community. A minimum number of hours is prescribed as part of the process. Students need to set-up these opportunities themselves.
  5. Portfolio – Students must document their project time with evidence in a digital portfolio. This will likely include video artifacts, journal entries, podcasts, images, etc.
  6. Presentation – Once the project and portfolio have been successfully completed, students share their project in a formal presentation before a panel of teachers, advisors, mentors and community members.

Gardner mentions a number of benefits in addition to the authentic learning experience that asks students to solve problems, read and write critically, and analyze the validity of information on the Internet. For example, students develop courtesy skills that are required in networking, foster a respect for academic integrity, learn to adhere to strict deadlines, dress professionally, and keep commitments. The feeling of empowerment after completing a significant project cannot be underestimated  either.


Gardner, N. (2011, Oct. 26) Senior projects: A cure for senioritis. Education Week Teacher. Accessed Oct. 27, 2011 through Education Week.

7 initial steps when planning an integrated PBL project

I noted the following seven initial planning steps that a group of teachers followed when collaboratively planning for integrated PBL:

  1. Each participating teacher identifies the key learning standards for their content area and grade level.
  2. Each teacher drafts an appropriate assessment on these standards for their content area. This step is meant to help focus on the essential skills needed to demonstrate mastery on the standard.
  3. In a group, each teacher talks through their own standards explaining them to the rest of the group so that they all have a general understanding of the content knowledge and/or skills required to demonstrate proficiency on the standards. The teachers also address what they need to do to get students to demonstrate proficiency on these standards.
  4. The teachers then discuss natural ways that the standards overlap. They look for possible thematic relationships among the standards of the different content areas.
  5. The teachers develop an end product focus for the project by answering a guiding question such as “What is it we are trying to solve/create/develop …?”
  6. Each teacher then determines what they need to do in their own class in order to bring students to the end product while meeting their own content area learning standards.
  7. The teachers co-develop an overall instructional timeline for the length of the project.

Resource for Project Based Learning

The Buck Institute for Education  is an organization focused on improving 21st century teaching and learning through project based learning or PBL. I came across their website today and noted a number of good resources including:

  • teaching videos in PBL
  • planning materials including student handouts, rubrics, and feedback forms
  • resource articles
  • a project database of over 400 different projects in a number of content areas including English, math, arts, health, science, social studies and world languages
  • a complete DIY support website

I think I will follow their PBL blog, too, so as to continue my own education in, and learn more about, implementing PBL in the classroom.