Wide range of projects helps students develop skills, teamwork

MURRYSVILLE — While individual projects have been part of classroom learning at all grade levels for many years, Mother of Sorrows School has made project-based learning a formal part of its curriculum.

“We are the only school using project-based learning,” said Theresa Szmed, who is in her third year as principal at MOSS. “The students really enjoy it.”

Laurie German, art teacher for all grades and project-based learning instructor for grades 2-8, said, “The program teaches children to work together and gives them a physical project to connect with a lesson.”

There are four projects per year in each grade, so German works with 28 projects annually. There is a separate grade on each student’s report card for project-based learning.

But, German’s responsibilities for working with other teachers and coordinating the program, which is in its second year at MOSS, does not take her away from her primary subject. Art is a component of every project, she said.

German, who has been a Catholic school teacher for 21 years, said one of the more popular projects is the fifth-graders’ fraction cookbook.

The students are learning about fractions in math, so they have to find a recipe with 10 ingredients, double it and cut it in half.

They prepare the recipe and share it at the school.

In addition, they design and create art for the cookbook.

“It is not just a way of learning; it’s a way of working together,” German said about project-based learning. “When students can physically see, touch and build a concept, it is almost impossible for them to not gain a better understanding.”

One of the key benefits of project-based learning is it accommodates the students’ varying learning styles, she said.

“It is recognized that children have a broader range of capabilities than they have been permitted to show in regular classrooms with traditional text-based focuses,” German said.

Other teachers and parents have been supportive of the curriculum, she said.

Parents get involved by providing supplies and helping in the classroom.

“Parents enjoy seeing what their students create. And they love the fact that projects are done in the classroom, not in the family kitchen,” she said with a laugh.

An eighth-grade project requires students to research the Brothers Grimm and rewrite one of their fairy tales with a modern twist.

“I love it,” German said. “I love seeing every student being successful, every student learning and every student comfortable in the class environment, taking ownership of their learning.

“If students learn to take responsibility for their own learning, they will form the basis for the way they will work with others in their adult lives.”

— Jerry Zufelt

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