Ninety-nine seventh graders at Shanahan Middle School recently learned about the City of Delaware as part of their studies.
“The Shanahan Team 701 Project-Based Learning TRECA R&D Innovation Initiative” began last March, English teacher Jill Simpson said at a recent Olentangy Local Schools Board of Education meeting.
Science teacher Jaimie Thomas said that students were asked what makes Delaware, Ohio, an attractive place to live for a diverse population? They spent nine weeks this school year working on the answer.
“There is no Olentangy town,” Thomas said. “So we really talked to the kids about what is a town that is appealing to you as a 12-year-old.”
The students learned about demographics and livability, and chose a project manager. Next, they had a panel of Delaware leaders visit them, including City Manager Tom Homan and Delaware Area Chamber of Commerce President Holly Quaine.
“Our jaws hit the floor that afternoon when we saw our 99 kids interacting with these four unknown adults,” Thomas said. “They were on-point, they were taking notes and asking very appropriate questions.”
Then, the students visited Delaware on a field trip. They visited residential areas, the Ohio Wesleyan University campus and the downtown business district, spoke to people and made phone calls.
“Their goal was to decide what improvements they could make to the city of Delaware,” Thomas said. “What does Delaware need or service is missing?”
The students then used Google Doc (a productivity application) to put together a presentation that included a mission statement and cost-benefit analysis. Four presentations were chosen – two day care facilities, a yoga studio and a non-alcoholic venue for college students – were chosen, and then presented to the panel that visited them initially.
“We were so proud of them, because the panel was amazed that these were 12-year-olds they were talking to, because they were doing the work that college students do,” Thomas said.
Team 701 instructors Simpson, Thomas, social studies teacher Chris Tressel and math teacher Robert Cline met daily. They said it was hard to give up control of the classroom, but received a lot of positive feedback with project-based learning, which is an alternative to direct instruction and memorization. It was said that the students learned to be better at communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity.
TRECA is the Tri-Rivers Educational Computer Association, which serves a consortium of Ohio school districts by offering them technology equipment for classrooms. The TRECA R&D Initiative takes a page from successful businesses by having the students do research and development, that is to say, work on a project.
Simpson said it was up to the board whether they continued with the TRECA initiative. Superintendent Wade Lucas said that districts like Olentangy are pioneers with this type of learning. “Our kids and parents are going to force us to move forward,” Lucas said.