116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
MARION — Linn-Mar High School students are gaining know-how in science and creative writing and “learning skills for the real world” by writing children’s books in a new hands-on, project-based learning program.
For the new Venture Earth Science class, Chase Cubbage, 14, a freshman, last week read a book he wrote showcasing what he’s learned about earthquakes and tornadoes and received constructive criticism from peers. Other students in the class are writing their own books, too. Illustration for the books are being created by students in Venture’s Digital Design and Communication course. The books will then be given to Linn-Mar elementary schools.
This is the first year of Linn-Mar High School’s project-based Venture Program after the district ended its five-year partnership with Iowa BIG last year. In ending the partnership, the district cited both the cost and its desire to make the program more available to its students by having it on-campus.
In the Iowa BIG program — a concept championed by The Gazette's parent company as the community rebuilt after the historic 2008 flood — high school students team up with businesses to work on projects. This gives its students the ability to learn and use real-world skills such as leadership, accountability and teamwork on projects they are passionate about, while earning high school credit at the same time.
Between 70 and 100 Linn-Mar students had enrolled in Iowa BIG each year previously. Today, about 100 students are enrolled in the first year of the district’s Venture Program. There are about 1,200 students at Linn-Mar High.
Students are learning about careers in Eastern Iowa, identifying and searching for answers to problems in their own community, managing their time and working collaboratively in Venture.
Elyssa McDowell, Linn-Mar strategic partnerships coordinator, said it’s “bringing learning to life.”
“Students haven’t learned like this. Teacher’s haven’t taught like this,” McDowell said. “As a team in Venture we are all learners, and we are all adapting and finding creative solutions and collaborating with each other.”
Listening to a lecture, taking notes, processing information, studying for and taking a test still are all important life skills, McDowell said. But Venture offers students a way to put their knowledge to work.
Already, students have studied and are designing vertical gardens for indoor residential use in a Life Science class. Another group traveled to Palisades-Kepler State Park to study geographical features and has taken water samples at Indian Creek in Marion.
Throughout the year, students will have more opportunities to come up with their own original projects and carry them out.
“We’re trying to open up the walls of the classrooms,” said Mark Hutcheson, Linn-Mar director of high school teaching and learning. “Project-based learning is teachers running alongside students. That’s a real shift for our teachers to give up some of that control.”
Venture is offering 10 learning tracks: advanced business, behavioral science, business foundations, Earth science, environmental science, government and law, graphic arts, health science, life science and writing.
Instead of individual 45-minute classes, students enrolled in a Venture track take a set of classes in a three-hour period. For example, a student in the government and law track will take a government class, law class and college writing class that will conclude in a project.
Students still will have the option of taking classes in the traditional setting as single courses.
Project-based students demonstrate proficiency and earn course credits by completing projects and giving presentations instead of taking a test.
An end-of-quarter survey recently showed that students are learning at the same level they would be in a traditional classroom and are feeling confident about what they’re doing in the process.
Charlotte McDermott is teaching her first project-based class as an Earth science teacher for the Venture program. It’s “awesome and stressful,” she said, but connects what students learn in the classroom to “real life.”
Venture classrooms look more like collaborative office workspaces with soft seating like sofas and a variety of tables and desks.
There is a “community” of freshman girls in her Earth science class that is learning how to collaborate and give each other constructive criticism.
Kelsey Infanger, 15, a freshman, said she remembers what she learns better in her Venture class than in the traditional classroom.
MacLynn Hannan, 15, also a freshman, said her grades are improving because she is doing project-based work where she can prove her knowledge of what she’s learned instead of taking tests “based on memory.”
“It’s a different way of doing business, but our teachers have really picked it up and ran with it,” Hutcheson said. “Our kids are receiving a great experience because of it.”
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