Project-based learning is an important part of our experiential curriculum because it allows students to work for an extended period of time investigating and responding to complex questions, problems, and challenges.
In this dynamic classroom approach, students actively explore real-world problems and acquire a deeper knowledge of a topic.
We know that the jobs of the future will require our students to possess more than basic knowledge and skills; project-based learning is just one of the many ways that creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication are woven into our curriculum. Through these projects, students are asked to take initiative and responsibility, and as a result build confidence and self-esteem. Some examples have included:
- A natural history museum in the pre-kindergarten classroom as an independent play area where children acted as museum workers, visitors, and teachers. They were given science materials and models to display and learned a lot about our natural world through play.
- In their History of Human Rights Violations course, upper school students chose a current or historical event displaying a violation of human rights, then through independent research became experts on the event and shared their knowledge through a research paper and a multi-media presentation. The students were also asked to research and contact non-profit organizations that have a connection to their area of study. For example, one student studying North Korean society and government contacted Liberty in North Korea and learned about their organization, including their mission and accomplishments.
Starting as young as fourth grade, students have the opportunity to choose a topic or passion and run with it. With the help of outside mentors and teachers, students are able to dive deep into a subject and make it their own. As the students move up from Lower School through Middle School and finally to Upper School, the projects expand in scope and outreach to the community, often incorporating a service aspect. These culminating projects serve as celebrations of Cascades Academy students both as individuals and as contributing members of our community.
4th/5th Grade Independent Project
Students in 4th and 5th grade dive into Independent Projects after researching a topic about which they would like to learn more. Through study and working with a mentor, students acquire a new skill and then present what they have learned in a written project and oral presentation. Recent examples included dog training, cake decorating, computer programming, and mastering aerial silks.
8th Grade Experience Project
The The Experience Project requires graduating middle school students, under the guidance of a mentor, to develop a project of their own design to be presented orally during graduation week to the greater Cascades Academy Community. This right-of-passage can take myriad forms and can draw from a host of inspirations, whether formally academic or otherwise. This project is carried out as part of the History and Social Studies classes in the Middle School. Recent examples have included developing an art show and donating the proceeds to a charity in Uganda, learning about solar energy and volunteering with an installation project in at Casa Chapi in Peru, and learning construction in order to build a treehouse.
11th Grade Mastery Project
The purpose of the Mastery Project is for upper school students to learn new skills and trades from local experts in the community. This project occurs in the 11th grade year and spans the months of October through May. Each student averages two hours a week working in an internship with a local trade, organization, or company studying a topic of his or her choice. At the end of the year, students present their experiences and newly acquired knowledge to the school community. Recent examples have included an intership with Legal Aid, learning the craft of welding, and assisting with the installation of the school's solar panels.
Senior Legacy Project
As the seniors finish their last year at Cascades Academy, they are required to complete one last project. This project is intended to supply the students with new skills in a service-oriented capacity. Students are asked to either individually or in groups design their own project plan, one that will not only interest them, but also leave their community with something tangibly beneficial. For example, the Class of 2016 gifted composting worm bins and hand-crafted raised garden beds to the school. Students created their project, a detailed a timeline of the different tasks to be completed, chose mentors to help them through the process, drew up a business plan, and designed a culminating presentation that clearly displayed the process of this project.