BATTLE GROUND — In one Battle Ground Public Schools classroom, the cities of tomorrow are being designed today.
Students in Kent Graham’s class at River HomeLink are deep in plans to create a future-ready water filtration system. Graham’s classroom was alive on Friday, with students cutting styrofoam to build models, turning plastic bottles into buildings and painting large boards to illustrate imagined water sources for their cities.
Graham is piloting a problem-based learning class at the school, which provides more traditional classroom opportunities to families who home-school their children. It’s a bit of a twist on the hottest trend in education: project-based learning. Both effectively work exactly how they sound: Students are given a project — or in this case, a problem — and learn about a variety of subjects in the context of the task.
These seventh- and eighth-grade students spent the first nine weeks of the school year tackling bird strikes, and are now on to completing designs for the Future City Competition, a national program that encourages students to imagine and build their own cities.
“They’re having various levels of success,” Graham said with a grin as students scrambled to collect just the right combination of detritus to turn into models of a working city.
So far, students have written essays describing their proposed cities, built virtual versions in the popular SimCity computer game and visited the Clark County Wastewater Treatment Plant on McCann Road.
Studies suggest that project-based learning, when implemented well, helps students perform as well or better than traditional students on standardized tests, while improving students’ problem-solving and collaboration skills, according to a research review published by Edutopia.
“They’re learning how to problem-solve, and they’re learning how other people do it,” Graham said.
Students Zoey Psoras and Anna Demchukov were poring over the design of their city, trying to put together the right collection of cans and bottles to match the circle of buildings their plans call for in the heart of the town.
“We’re learning how hard it is to maintain a city,” said Zoey, a 14-year-old eighth-grader. “Everyone has their own ideas.”
Anna, a 13-year-old seventh-grader, pointed out how a river, running through the middle of town, will run through an imagined filter. She’s enjoyed almost all of this project — her nose wrinkles at the memory of their visit to the water treatment facility.
“It stinks in there,” she said. “But it’s cool to learn how they filter stuff.”
At a nearby table, a group of girls were designing a city they’ve called “Lush Valley,” appropriately named for the eventual mountains and flowing rivers that will cover the model.
“It’s an older city with modern parts,” said Ella Galloway, a 12-year-old seventh-grader.
Ella and her classmate, Joanna Sokolova, another 12-year-old seventh-grader, say the project has given them a chance to learn how to work in a team.
“It’s basically getting us used to cooperating,” Ella said.
But working with other people can, at times, be stressful, Joanna said. That’s why they’re learning to work through it.
“Our group went through a lot of disagreements,” Joanna said.
“I love my team,” she quickly added. “It’s fun to make something.”