THE FWSU STORY: BFA Fairfax Middle School Students Engage in Flexible Learning Opportunities

This year BFA Fairfax Middle School is implementing a school-wide Project-Based Learning (PBL) component as part of our academic program.

For the past several years our staff collaborated to create more authentic and student-driven learning opportunities with varied levels of success.  This year a group of teachers met during the summer to design a process that would integrate content, Developmental Assets, and the Vermont Transferrable Skills throughout our student learning experiences, while also embedding curricular standards.  Students will document their learning and growth through their Personalized Learning Plans (PLP) and share this information with parents during student-led conferences.

The result is a what we call Flexible Learning Opportunities.  The sessions run two days a week for two hours per day.  During these times, students are grouped in multi-age configurations by their choice of one of the strands offered, and students follow a modified schedule where they still participate in their Core and Unified Arts classes.

This opportunity is a response to the need for alternative times for our students to pursue more personalized learning opportunities.  The flexible schedule allows for more student choice in their learning and increased opportunities for project-based learning experiences.  The strands we are offering for our first session include:

  • Strategic Games – Students explore a variety of board and strategy games focusing on decision-making skills in which their choices determine the result. We started with a few games like chess, checkers, and cribbage and progressed to incorporating student choice.
  • Sports Activities – Students have the opportunity to participate and be active in a variety of team sports, individual sports, team building activities and exercises.
  • Robotic Cars – Students are building robotic cars with the purpose of racing them. Students will make modifications to their car until they reach their maximum potential.
  • Drama/Improvisation – Students are learning to play many types of characters, act out stories, and think on their feet to make up scenes without a script.
  • Maker Space with E-textiles – Students are designing and creating clothing, costumes, jewelry, or accessories using high-tech elements.  They combine fabric with microcontrollers, LEDs, programmable circuits, and 3D printed and laser cut elements to make fun and high-fashion wearables and other textiles.
  • Maker Space – Students are working with equipment in the Maker Space to reach a group or individual goal. They have the opportunity to use 3D printers, Ozobots, a large scale graphics printer, Cricuts/vinyl cutters and a fabric press, Rockerbox Stacks and SparkFun Inventor’s Kits.
  • Building an Outdoor Classroom – From the ground up, students are using carpentry skills and building techniques to help construct a large outdoor classroom in our school farm. Hands-on problem solving, carpentry skills,  and working together are our goals for this course.
  • Cooking and Baking – Students are learning the joy of cooking and baking for themselves and others while developing skills to be more successful in the kitchen.
  • Set Design – Students are building small-scale models of sets for a play based on brief plays and short stories they read.

The initial feedback from students and staff members has been extremely positive.  Students have consistently shared that they enjoy choice in their learning and like the variety of learning opportunities.  Staff indicated that student engagement levels are high, and we have had no behavior referrals during this learning time.  Finally, parents have shared that their children are eagerly discussing these learning experiences at home, which at times can be an anomaly as students progress through their adolescent school years.

We are really excited about the early success of these learning experiences.  Thank you to our staff for the extra time coordinating these opportunities, to our students for their genuine excitement for learning, and the School Board members for allocating resources to support Project-Based Learning in our school.

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