Project-Based Learning & How We Are Different

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Project-based learning is a fancy buzz word in education right now, and while many people can understand and conceptualize its benefits, sometimes seeing actual examples being implemented is powerful.

At Acton we have 6 major projects during the year and our first considers the question: “What does life need to survive?” This is a project centered around biology and ecology.  At the culmination of all our projects we have a real world public performance or exhibition of our learning. This component helps foster accountability in students with the realization that their work and effort will be “on display”.

For our current quest, we’ve challenged the students to have four deliverables at our exhibition. They are as follows:

  • Field Journals
  • Eco-System Maps
  • Terrarium
  • Sculpture of animal with adaptive characteristics

The students are working on some of these individually and some collaboratively. We believe that students can begin to develop real world 21st century skills from an early age. For our Eco-Systems maps we’ve done a few things that are fundamentally different than in a traditional model.

We started by showing students several examples of eco system maps and asked them to discuss and consider the positives and negatives of each, culminating in a rubric of what we need to focus on delivering in our maps shown here:


After our first draft, we asked our peers to provide feedback that was specific and kind.   That feedback facilitated improved revisions which we then did several times.

Here is a quick visual example of Eco-system maps at stage 1,2,and3 (which is still in process).

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After each draft we sought specific and clear feedback, as well as questioned how our map met the criteria we had jointly agreed upon in our design rubric. Our finished products will be on display in a few weeks. If you’d like to see a neat video about this process of continuous improvement check out this video we shared with our students.