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TOY Stories Blog: Using Project-Based Learning to Expand Student Success



By Laura Shelton

8th Grade Science

Benjamin D. Foulois Creative and Performing Arts School

Prince George’s County Maryland


I want ALL of my students to do well in my class. And I want them to have fun while learning! I am able to address both of these concerns through what has now become my signature use of projects both in and out of class.

I have over the years embraced an adapted project based learning model for my science classes. With every unit and for almost every topic there is some opportunity to demonstrate understanding through various mediums of artistic representation.  This strategy is in part compliant with various curricula and reform models, but enhanced mostly because I find this works best for ALL of my scholars. An alternative to the traditional assessment tool, projects are meant to equalize academic performance.

Projects are student driven and promote ‘out of the box’ thinking. This thinking allows students to internalize learning via real world applications of concepts that make sense to THEM. Encouraging the children to apply concepts in a manner that is meaningful to them ensures increased retention of targeted skills and yields a more authentic product.

The types of projects assigned vary in complexity and length yet I am always amazed with the interpretive ingenuity shown. We start our year in Chemistry with the design, construct and marketing of an original soap product, to include a detailed budget and television commercial! During our Life Science Unit the children are charged with selecting a room in their house, creating a visual or 3 dimensional representation of that room, and reassigning elements of that room as cell organelles.

But it is through the carte blanche given for the invention challenge that I see innovation at its best in my scholars. The problem or challenge they address is personal…so my scholar who is the dancer designs an adaptation to her dance shoe to reduce stress factors on her foot! I find the children welcome any opportunity to showcase their skills and respective talents. It is here you get the most genuine effort and the learning becomes meaningful.

Sure… sometimes they get caught up in the creativeness of it all and forget to add those other relevant components of the assignment like the writing portion. But if there now exists an enthusiasm for the topic, one that can be nurtured to embrace additional STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) related opportunities, and that student was able to apply and illustrate some level of understanding, then I feel that scholar has achieved a measure of success.