Authentic Learning Opportunities Through Project Based Experiences

Project-based learning (PBL) connects students with real-world problems to solve.  These authentic learning opportunities provide a framework for students to fuse together multidisciplinary applications, collaboration, and design thinking to identify and propose solutions to challenges that professionals encounter in their daily work.  PBL is one of many learning methods students experience in the York Country Day classroom. Matt Trump, Upper and Middle School Head, lauds Project Based Learning “our students approach problems where there isn’t necessarily a single answer. Instead, teachers supply the tools and students learn to be adaptable.”

img-0104-1.jpgThis semester, students in the Introduction to Robotics and Engineering elective course recently began an assignment focusing on structural engineering.  Their teacher, Elizabeth Charleston noted, “Students are naturally fascinated by structures and the building process, and bridges in particular are amazing structures to investigate. They are a beautiful combination of engineering, geometry, physics, material sciences, and art. Traditional bridge building contests are fun, but I wanted my students to have a real-world experience with personal context and strong career applications. We found a great opportunity in our backyard!”  What Mrs. Charleston didn’t anticipate was that within minutes of student’s exploring the storm water drainage area and culvert on the northeast property line of our school, students identified a problem—a missing safe passage from one property to the other. 

YCDS Senior, Ekom Inyang, states, “The bridge that we are designing is designed fit into the environment without disturbing organisms that were already there, disrupting the water flow, or increasing the erosion rate. Being mindful of the world we humans live in is more important to me than ever before.” Ekom plans to major in environmental engineering next fall.

Given their recent study of bridges including beam, arch, and suspension, the class was eager to get started on a solution. Already measuring and assessing the culvert area they have begun designing and building scaled bridge models that they feel best fits the area.  To help inform their design and decisions, students are researching township building codes and seeking feedback from professional engineers. This type of learning is one of the many examples of how a YCDS education integrates 21st century learning in meaningful ways and inspires curiosity and engagement that a pencil and paper assessment could never measure.  “Building and testing a model is a great example of hands-on learning, requiring careful attention to design details, measurements, and techniques. Students are fully engaged and invested in creating their final product,”  says Charleston.   The class will present their tested models to civil engineers at C.S. Davidson, Inc. the same firm hired to stabilize the banks of this culvert.

Stay tuned to learn more about our students’ prototypes, proposals, and their presentation to the architects.