Linn-Mar schools breaking ties with Iowa BIG

The district will create its own project-based learning program

A student walks past an entrance next to the 11/12 school office at the new South Commons and entrance at Linn-Mar High
A student walks past an entrance next to the 11/12 school office at the new South Commons and entrance at Linn-Mar High School in Marion, Iowa, home Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

MARION — Ending a five-year partnership with Iowa BIG, the Linn-Mar Community School District is breaking ties to create its own project-based learning program.

Linn-Mar High School’s Venture Program next year will make project-based learning available to all its high school students, regardless of schedule conflicts or transportation barriers.

The Iowa BIG program costs the district just over $400,000 annually, including providing Iowa BIG with two Linn-Mar teachers who now will be teaching at the high school next year instead, Superintendent Shannon Bisgard said.

“Budget is always a concern and a factor as we make decisions, especially in these challenging times as school budgets are really right. It’s just part of our reality,” Bisgard said.

Iowa BIG was launched in 2013 in partnership with the Cedar Rapids and College Community school districts. Alburnett Community Schools also became a partner in the program.

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.

Linn-Mar has partnered with Iowa BIG for the last five years, with between 70 and 100 of its students enrolling in the program each year.

About 400 students will enroll in the Venture Program its first year, Bisgard predicts.


“We want to take what (Iowa BIG) has done and expand the opportunities for our kids so more students can have project-based learning opportunities,” Bisgard said. “We want to integrate it into the high school and connect it more to our curriculum.”

Venture will offer 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 will take a set of intertwined classes.

For example, a student in the in government and law track will take a government class, law class and college writing class that will conclude in a project.

It will be a “super block” of multiple classes in a three-hour period, Bisgard said.

Students still will have the option of taking classes in the traditional setting as single courses.

“Not every student learns the same and we want to make sure we meet their needs,” Bisgard said.

There is no additional expenses for the Venture program, Bisgard said, and it will be available to all its students in ninth through 12th grades.

“It’s been a big driving force to us to make sure we’re reaching all students,” said Mark Hutcheson, director of high school teaching and learning.

“One of the areas (Iowa) BIG has shown us is students really like the ability to have a voice in their learning, in the types of projects they’re using to help them gain knowledge and skills,” Hutcheson said.


A student in the environmental science class, for example, may chose a project on the types of bacteria in Indian Creek, Hutcheson said. The student may monitor the oxygen, nitrate and carbon dioxide levels in the water to determine how they are affecting the types of bacteria present.

“The strands are designed to be an immersive experience for students,” he said.

Iowa BIG Executive Director Trace Pickering said he is saddened that Linn-Mar is leaving Iowa BIG but wishes it the best of luck with the Venture program.

“We understand we don’t necessarily fit their long-term plan,” Pickering said.

The cost of Iowa BIG, which was shared across four districts, will now be shared across only three. Linn-Mar not continuing with the program will have a financial impact, Pickering said.

The program is closing its location on Blairs Ferry Road, 5313 N Park Pi NE, Cedar Rapids, which primarily served Linn-Mar students.

Students will now attend Iowa BIG at its location in Czech Village, 415 12th Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids, where it has been located for eight years.

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