Problem Based Learning
Linking the ACADEMIC and CONSTRUCTION Curriculum
Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is an instructional approach which requires the student to solve “real-life” problems. The program, developed at the NEL/CPS Construction Career Academy, is a unique and challenging approach to provide higher order thinking skills and hands-on learning to ALL students. Our students not only solve problems in each academic content area but also solve them as they occur across the entire curriculum including Construction Technology, art, computer science, and World of Work. Many of the activities in each PBL module are portfolio worthy and can be included in each student’s “graduation by proficiency” presentation.
It is important to note that cross-curricular problem based learning is only part of our total program. All subjects follow the national standards of their discipline and the Grade Span Expectations (GSE’s) as prescribed by the State of Rhode Island and New England Common Assessment Program.
Vital to the success of this program are the summative activities that have been carefully planned utilizing content area standards, national financial literacy standards, GSE’s, and Construction Technology standards. Our culminating activities are field trips to the sites where each of these modules occur. All problem-based learning modules utilized at the school have real-life applications which are fully explored and analyzed by our students.
As this is the only program of its kind in a structured high school setting, our nationally recognized curriculum has been featured in such magazines as the AFT’s “American Teacher” and at professional conferences across the country. We have been fortunate to share our vision at educational conferences in such places as Anaheim, California, St. Louis, Missouri, Hartford, Connecticut, New Orleans, Louisiana, Boston, Massachusetts and the annual NEL Educational Symposium in Pomfret, Connecticut. Our teacher have also been videotaped for presentations at professional development institutes in Japan.
Grade 9: “Making Choices”
Students entering high school have to make many choices that will impact their education, career, and lives. Our freshman Problem-Based Learning module, “Making Choices”, focuses on the problem solving process by examining five historical problems from the viewpoint of a person living through them. Studies include “rumspringa” and the Amish culture, the Battle of Gettysburg, Immigration and the Ellis Island experience, the emergence of labor unions and unionism, and the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. The culminating activity for this project includes a field trip to Lancaster, PA (Amish Country), Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Gettysburg, PA. Students have the opportunity to meet representatives of LIUNA Local 731 for a personalized walking tour of the bridge. Upon their return, students then make a PowerPoint or other suitable media presentation summarizing their experiences.
Grade 10: “Building on a Dream”
Students in Grade 10 study the process and procedure of building a house. They are given a fictional identity and career and it is up to them to decide where they will build their dream house. English/Language Arts, mathematics, Rhode Island history, geography, and science prepare students to make a simulated move to their ideal community. Students then build their homes in Construction Technology class using materials “purchased” in math class. This module culminates in a trip to Washington, DC and Virginia where students explore the governmental issues that impact construction, visit the headquarters of the Laborer’s International Union of North America, and may participate in building an actual house with charitable organizations such as Habitat for Humanity.
Grade 11: “Building Bridges”
In Grade 11, students are challenged with the most intricate of activities. They are given a situation where they have to link a land mass in the middle of Lake Erie with the mainland. There’s a catch! The land mass is home to the only confederate Civil War cemetery in the north. How do you get tourists to visit a cemetery? Our students have to develop ideas/attractions to lure people to visit without destroying or detracting from the sacredness of the property. Then, bridges have to be built that connect the cemetery to each attraction. There is one problem however. During the placement of the bridge footings, students find a human bone! Classes in World of Work, mathematics, social studies, forensic science, computer science, English/Language Arts, and Construction Technology work together to solve what ultimately turns into a real-life CSI episode. At the same time, a scale model of an actual bridge is the Construction Technology Laboratory. Once completed, students visit Sandusky, Ohio, the site of the actual cemetery to compare their solutions. This popular problem caps our three year PBL continuum.