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Proud McCorkle students show Governing Board progress through project based learning

Posted January 21, 2015

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Students from Mary Belle McCorkle K-8 stood before TUSD's Governing Board on Tuesday and presented some impressive statistics for this school year:

Seventh-grade English/Language Arts scores rose by 13 percent between quarter one and two.
Eighth-grade English/Language Arts scores rose 8.32 percent between quarter one and two.
In one school year, referrals dropped from 381 to 61. Parent calls/concerns dropped from 206 to 40.
This year, 43 percent of seventh and eighth graders will receive honor roll certificates. Of those, 20 percent have a 4.0 GPA.

How did they do it? Project-based learning. In fact, one of the projects they completed was the very presentation they were giving. Principal Sandra Thiffault introduced the information and gave an overview of the training and opportunities for teachers, including four coaching days and access to technology that allows them to collaborate with each other and teachers around the nation.

"We are creating a culture that empowers, teaches curriculum that engages and technology that enables," Ms. Thiffault said.

Then she turned the presentation over to the students who showed confidence and poise in front of a large crowd of people. They explained that project-based learning is a method of teaching where students gain knowledge and skills by investigating and responding to complex driving questions, problems or challenges.

The students described the three R's that guide them: Rigor, relevance and relationships. Projects must be tied to state standards, they must be relevant to the material children are learning, and they must be collaborative. They talked about working together—parents and family members even get involved.

On Feb. 12, the U.S. Green Building Council is presenting seventh graders with an award for their project on urban planning and sustainable environments.

Ms. Thiffault said the winning project is just one example of the complex and challenging work her students are doing.

Student-produced video that was shown at Board Meeting

"These projects and work we are doing, it's not easy," she said. "We hold them to a really high standard."

The students also showed a video they produced, edited and starred in that explains how project-based learning works and how much they enjoy it.

Dr. H.T. Sánchez, TUSD superintendent, said that the outstanding results at Mary Belle McCorkle are just the beginning. With the board's support, project-based learning will be added at the high school level and the elementary level.

Board member Cam Juarez was impressed with the children's presentation and the information in it.

"It's really nice to hear about some really positive things," he said.


Student-produced video that was shown at Board Meeting