Celebrating Project-Based Learning at Vermont Day School

Lucianna Macauley of Charlotte displays her mixed-media art piece representing her original quote, “Anyone who changes the world has to start by speaking their mind.” Courtesy photo.

Parents and friends gathered at Vermont Day School for a schoolwide celebration of learning highlighting recent units in Global Studies and STEM.

In the kindergarten and 1stgrade classroom, visitors were invited to tour a museum exhibit that students designed to share their knowledge of the Inuit culture. In another room, visitors heard the biographies of influential Vermonters from 2nd and 3rd graders who acted as wax museum statues.

Elsewhere, students in the 4th and 5th grade class explained mixed-media artwork and the accompanying quotes they created to represent their personal beliefs on human rights. As Sage Bagnato, head of school, described it, “The depth of their thinking, the detail and complexity of their projects, and the confidence the students exuded when speaking about their work was impressive.”

STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) projects were equally compelling. Caryn Shield, the school’s STEM teacher, noted, “The project-based process creates a great learning environment. Each age group is working on something different, but they all are invested in their learning and are challenged to think creatively and solve complex challenges.” Shield’s youngest students presented their learnings on how best to design and build garden beds for their school. Engineers from the 2nd and 3rd grade class shared products they invented using their new understanding of states of matter and phase changes. Lastly, 4th and 5th graders displayed 2- and 3-D models of blue prints, floor plans and houses they created to capture their knowledge of architectural design.

Students had significant influence and choice throughout each of these projects, as project-based learning is never just an assigned task or set of questions. Throughout such projects, there are abundant opportunities to reflect, critique and revise. The benefits of this philosophy are many. It inspires students to do exciting and meaningful work, helps them see how learning connects to life, builds 21st century learning competencies such as collaboration and critical thinking, offers practice in managing time and materials, teaches the use of assessment tools to create high-quality work, and makes students feel like they can and are making a difference in the world.

When speaking with current students, these benefits are further evident. One 4th grader said, “I like it because we always know why we are learning something.” A 2nd grader told us, “Our work doesn’t disappear when we are finished. It sticks with us!”

Overall, Erin Capps, 4th and 5th grade teacher, had this to say, “The learning is profound and meaningful. Project-based learning never stops—we are already diving into a new investigation involving design thinking and entrepreneurship with a well-known Vermont business. The students are happy, engaged and eager for knowledge every day.”

To learn more about project based learning at Vermont Day School, please visit the school’s website. The school is also hosting an open house on Sunday, May 7, at 3:00 p.m.