Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Marty Kerzetski: Space Day Design Challenges and Project-Based Learning

Edutopia has a great page on project-based learning with teacher interviews on their use of projects and real-life results. In one Q&A, Marty Kerzetski, fifth grade teacher at Lackawanna Trail Elementary Center in Pennsylvania, talks about her use of Space Day Design Challenges with her students. These challenges "introduce her students to real-life science problems that astronauts face."

Kerzetski says that there are three design challenges, one based on handling emergencies in space, another based on creating an attractive and nutritious recipe for astronauts, and "Stretch and Fetch," in which a retractable arm has to be designed. For the project, Kerzetski and her students used ePals for discussion, questions and sharing of good ideas or resources with each other and students across the nation.

Another great feature of Kerzetski's project was the input of experts. Every week at ePals, students interacted with an employee of NASA, an astronaut, or other expert related to the designs students were working on. Kerzetski says this was excellent because "the experts would come and respond to the children themselves ... and they were very encouraging. They said, 'Great question,' 'Keep up the good work.' And that really motivated the kids."

Kerzetski thinks that some teachers avoid project-based learning because it often seems "easier to read from the book, give a worksheet, and move along that way." She herself, though, is a huge advocate of project-based learning and said in her Q&A that in projects, students
[...] direct their own learning. I set it up for them. I give them guidelines and then I kind of set them loose, but they do what they do best. Like I said, some kids will work on the drawing of the project, on creating the project, whereas other kids might work on the writing. But they work together, they share their ideas. They do the research together so everyone is involved. And then they switch their spots, and it just seems like they work to their strengths, and it gives them an opportunity to show where their strengths are.
SOURCE: "Marty Kerzetski: Project-Based Learning" n.d.
photo courtesy of soldiers media center, used under this Creative Commons license

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