Project Based Learning At Its Best
A visit to Alecia Jongeward’s class is always exciting! There might be things flying through the air or fish jumping around in a tank. In fact,sometimes, it’s not even in a traditional classroom but in the shop, the greenhouse or even the gym! Alecia teaches Science at Park High School in Livingston, MT. In her second year at PHS, and sixth year in the classroom, Alecia loves working at a rural Montana high school because “even when I get crazy big ideas, no one shuts me down.” For her students, this is great news. Alecia has had enormous success implementing project-based learning, PBL, in nearly all of her classes. Rarely, can she be found standing in front of her classroom lecturing for very long. She believes whole-heartedly in getting students busy learning and discovering through hands-on, problem-based activities. In the photo on the left, physics and CAD students are collaborating on student-driven projects exploring Newton’s laws of motion.
Students worked together to design, build and test various projective movement machines that would project objects like balls or marshmallows through the air in an effort to illustrate the laws of motion. As the students test the motion of their projects, Alecia walks among them with excitement taking pictures, asking questions and marveling at their work with complete sincerity. Students are engaged with their group members working closely together to make adjustments to their projects. It is clear Alecia has created an environment where risk taking and failure are part of the learning process. When one group runs a test on their machine only to have the entire structure break as the ball launches across the gym the students are smiling and laughing. One boy looks up and says, “I’m not even sad!” They clearly are enjoying the design process and understand that real learning happens when things don’t work according to plan.
A learning climate like this does not happen by accident. It is created by a teacher with great passion for her content and a commitment to her students and their learning. Alecia says the best thing about her job at PHS is the relationships she develops with her students. This is apparent as she interacts with each of them individually and as a group. She jokes with them but also lets them know when it’s time to get busy. She notices things like new haircuts and unique clothing and makes a point of complimenting them as she teaches.
Along with Physics, Alecia also teaches Biology, Life Science and STEM classes. Her Life Science students are studying aquaponics systems and even had live trout donated to help them study the effects of fish droppings on plant growth. This group is working on a project for the Smart Schools Challenge, which is a friendly competition among Montana Schools encouraging students to design and implement innovative projects that will improve the environment. Alecia’s class won the challenge in 2017 for their work with the aquaponics system. The students earned a visit with Lieutenant Governor, Mike Cooney, as well as some money for supplies for future projects. The Smart Schools Challenge is a creative way for Alecia to engage her students in a relevant project connecting them to their school community and giving them recognition for their efforts. The project based learning happening on a daily basis in Alecia Jongeward’s class at Park High School is a perfect example of how to engage students in solving real world problems by cultivating strong student-teacher relationships and a supportive learning community.