Forty-five students in Holly Geffers’ Foxboro High School junior English class have been developing their reading, writing and collaborative skills this year through a Project Based Learning approach to curriculum.
The approach uses inquiry-based questions to propel students to conduct research in order to find a solution or a response to authentic problems. To complete the project, students collaborated, conducted research, interviewed people, wrote letters, and organized donation drives.
Geffers, who has worked at Foxboro High the past 14 years, believes students need strong writing and reading skills to be successful, both in high school and afterward.
But she also believes it is essential students comprehend the role they have in their communities and the world, now and in the future.
On May 7 and 8, her students presented their projects via a gallery walk format at the high school library. Each group made creative signs, showcased donation items, gave a video introduction to the project, and answered all questions from past guest speakers, administrators, faculty, community members and peers.
Projects included feminine hygiene products for women who are homeless, care packages for children hospitalized due to cancer, a peer chat group for students experiencing stress, promotion of fundraising events and marketing for Homes For Our Troops, incorporation of technology for students whose attendance is affected by long term illnesses, an academic and social survey form to aid students who change schools midyear, supplies for mothers and young children who are affected by poverty, and personal property items for children in the foster care system.
“The students have worked hard this year to develop their proficiency with the important skills identified by the common core state standards and assessed by standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT tests,” Geffers said. “Furthermore, they have endeavored to expand their success skills so that they will be able to successfully collaborate and effectively lead.
“Their own project reflections reveal how much their confidence has grown through PBL. I have also personally observed tremendous growth. Students who barely spoke during presentations or who were extremely hesitant to present to small groups actually presented to large groups and adults throughout the two-day gallery walk.
“Each student spoke clearly and articulated their main points. I believe their confidence comes from multiple opportunities to present, collaborative experiences, informative peer given feedback at dress rehearsals, and most importantly, the passion they hold for the projects they had personally developed.”
Amelia Stowell, a junior whose project was gift baskets for young cancer patients at Dana Farber Hospital, said everyone in her group had personal connections to someone who has or has had cancer.
“We are excited to help raise awareness for the young children who do not receive a lot of visitors. We have already raised $310 through social media and personal deliveries and we are bringing the gifts we collected to Dana Farber in two to three weeks,” said Stowell, whose grandmother is a breast cancer survivor.
Caroline Cass, who was in the same group, gave a passionate presentation and shared her own personal story.
“My cousin Anna Jerome (of West Roxbury) was diagnosed with leukemia and fought for years to try and overcome it, but passed away when she was only 15,” Cass said.
Donations they collected include stuffed animals, coloring books, fuzzy socks, Chapstick, blankets, reading books and new puzzles.
Natalie Stromack, a senior student who stopped by to see the presentation, said her favorite project addressed helping children in foster care.
“I liked the group because of the cause that they are supporting. They are making sure the kids in foster care feel like they are cared for and making sure that they are comfortable,” said Stromack.
Tyler Hagan, who helped with fundraising events for Homes for Our Troops, said PBL was easier for him and other students in his class because they didn’t have to write papers every week.
“We didn’t have to drag something out for two to three weeks at a time trying to add more and more to the paper that we don’t even enjoy writing in the first place. This way, we get to actually make a difference and make a change and we can see the results of what we do,” said Hagan.
Chris Mitchell, development director for Homes For Our Troops and chairman of the town’s board of selectmen, visited the presentation at Foxboro High and thinks PBL is a valuable initiative.
“It’s great,” he said. “It’s getting different students involved in different non-profit organizations and seeing the needs that are out there in different parts of the states and even nationally.
“Students definitely had done their research. When I asked each of them if they are going to continue this project once the class is over, a lot of them thought that they would continue helping different non-profits. I reminded them that it looks good on college applications, resumes, and scholarship applications.”
“I am excited to work with my colleagues next year to bring these opportunities not only to my class but other junior classes as well,” Geffers said. “We will definitely be looking to include projects in which students can develop their reading, writing, and speaking skills to make a positive impact on society.”