Why is project-based learning important? For students and staff at Career Academy at South Bend, Indiana, it’s about being engaged in and amazed by learning.
“When a student is doing a project, there is often more choice involved in that,” said Alex Hammel, superintendent at Career Academy. “They’re building it the way they see it. Or, they’re designing in a way that makes sense to them. From a philosophical standpoint, we believe that once you get kids into these projects, they’re problem-solving.”
For many students, that problem-solving approach is one that transforms daily classes into something exciting. As Career Academy’s website puts it, “Prepare to be amazed.”
One inspiring project the public charter school students took on, for example, was building an entire tiny home, complete with wiring, plumbing, and framing!
That tiny home project even tapped into something special about the students’ community. The school’s region is the leading manufacturer of RVs and travel trailers, so students were able to learn about market opportunities in their area as well as practical building skills.
“It’s kind of this perfect blend of having a hands-on project, but also being something that fits well regionally so the kids have an understanding of what that looks like in our area,” said Hammel.
The tiny home project is just one of the hands-on projects getting students excited about learning at Career Academy.
“We’ve got students in our welding program that are designing components for companies in our region,” said Hammel. “They’re doing actually design and welding in collaboration with companies. We’ve got our engineering group that’s done prototypes and other design work for companies.”
Hammel continued, “We think a lot about 21st century skills: communication, collaboration, creativity, those types of things. You get more of that when you’re building that amount of project versus just having some regular assignment.”
There’s something else that is inspiring about Career Academy and its mission. One of the key components of the school’s mission is to empower students with good citizenship skills.
“We’re trying to do not only projects, but projects that get the kids thinking about their responsibilities and being a good citizen,” said Hammel.
So, each Career Academy student has an advisor to meet with on a weekly basis. They meet not just for an academic check-in but also for discussing future life plans.
“The ability to look someone in the eye and be able to carry on a conversation and be able to think about how they can positively impact a community?,” said Hammel. “Those are also really important things they need to know.”
From tiny homes to good talks, Career Academy’s unique learning environment is inspiring students to serve authentic needs after graduation.
“We emphasize the high-demand, high-wage jobs in our region: construction, engineering, computer science, biomedical and health sciences,” said Hammel. “We’ve got students doing internships at manufacturing companies and all these places. Employers are absolutely dying for talented students, so this is a great place for them. And the students are grateful because they’re having these amazing opportunities before they’re even out of high school.”
That is amazing!
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