‘Project-based learning’ prepares students at early age for workforce

An increasing number of schools across the SCV are teaching concepts with real-life applications. SIGNAL FILE PHOTO

As industries around the world continue to evolve with technology, employers are seeking out those with the skills and critical thinking necessary to fill the jobs of tomorrow — prompting schools in the Santa Clarita Valley to adapt their teaching methods to better prepare the students who will develop into the SCV’s future workforce.

Whether it’s the planned career and technical education programs at the still-under-construction Castaic High School, the new STEM-based classrooms being built at school sites across the SCV or the project-based learning curriculum offered at charter schools like the local Santa Clarita Valley International, an increasing number of schools are teaching concepts with real-life applications.

Terms like “project-based learning” and “career and technical education” may seem new, but they’re not a new idea, Newhall School District Superintendent Jeff Pelzel said.

“When you look at project-based learning, people are trying to integrate math, reading, writing and science together,” and you’re explicitly giving kids the freedom to create and explore solutions on their own time, in their own ways and at their own pace, Pelzel said,

Most public school districts don’t have a curriculum that emphasizes this specifically, but there are some areas, like science, where there is great integration.

In the Sulphur Springs Union School District, the integration and real-life applications take the form of rocket construction at its recent GATE Academy, where 85 students learned the influence of science and engineering practices on society through various projects, along with critical communication skills, said Kim Tredick, Sulphur Springs’ director of curriculum and instruction.

Other school districts, such as Castaic Union, follow a similar model to that of Sulphur Springs by providing a specific phenomena — like “how to reduce energy consumption” — that the young scientists will explore before coming up with a solution as a group.

“In Newhall, students are engaging in questions that ask them to use skills that prepare them for project-based learning concepts,” like the ones they’ll see in their future studies at Hart High School and College of the Canyons, Pelzel said.

Though it isn’t necessarily through a project, “social studies and math are included to help students think about (the science subjects) in a real-world context,” Pelzel said. This scenario plays out at many school sites, “and it will only increase as we roll out and get a better understanding of the Next Generation Science Standards.”

The newest head of the Newhall district believes his district’s curriculum prepares students for the project-based programs they’ll have in high school. “It just looks a little different in an elementary setting than in a secondary setting,” he said.

The SCV’s lone high school district and community college have both announced that they plan to increase the copious class offerings pertinent to the workforce industries their students will enter.

Students at Castaic High will have the opportunity to participate in an extensive career technical education program that will include a partnership with Kaiser Permanente, along with classes that will prepare future engineers, welders, health professionals and chefs for real-world job opportunities, district leaders said at the recent Castaic Countdown community event.

COC’s fall 2018 class schedule features a wide selection of career technical education courses in which students gain the skills needed to work in high-demand fields, such as plumbing technology, electrical technology and carpentry technology, COC spokesman Eric Harnish said in a news release.

“Schools have always sought to offer children the skills to enter the workforce, but the idea of what those skills are has shifted,” Pelzel said. As schools across California complete their transition to the Next Generation Science Standards, students will certainly have more access to hands-on activities that provide an opportunity to experiment and connect learning concepts to the things they see in society.



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