Fulton Junior High School Takes Lead On Project-Based Learning Efforts

As project-based learning becomes an increasingly popular initiative in education, teachers and administrators in the Fulton City School District are on the forefront of this movement.

At the Fulton Junior High School, Principal Ryan Lanigan and teachers Eric Kaproski and Laura Lizotte are leading the charge to bring more project-based learning offerings to their students.

According to Lanigan, a committee was formed and discussions began last year to determine ways to get students more on-task time.

“We started discussing attendance issues and what we need to do to engage our students,” Lanigan said. “Our students need to be really engrossed in what’s going on. Project-based learning is a great way for students to be active participants in their own learning.”

While cross-curricular teaching and project-based learning are not new concepts, Lanigan said there is a stronger focus on these teaching styles as a way of instilling essential life skills.

“To be successful in the 21st century, you need to have soft skills: collaboration, citizenship, people interactions, problem solving and teamwork,” Lanigan said. “Those are things that projects can do for you. What we’re really trying to do is find a balanced approach and get our students a more viable curriculum.”

As part of this effort, representatives from the junior high school and G. Ray Bodley High School are working to develop specific projects for their students. These projects will follow specific guidelines created by a committee that helps define the process for launching a classroom project.

“The project should tie in and must be relevant to the curriculum with an overlap of skills,” Lanigan said. “Projects must have writing embedded … and ensure that rigorous text is being used. We need to spend the same amount of time on engagement and perplexing the students when developing a project.”

With a solid foundation for project-based learning, teachers at the FJHS are preparing to launch course-specific projects in the coming months.

In December, students will create a massive timeline (complete with key dates, old photos and artifacts about Fulton’s history) as part of a unit about the Industrial Revolution.

Another project, slated for the spring, will incorporate the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics fields.

According to Lanigan, this project will incorporate robotics into a lesson about natural disasters.

“My staff is getting some great ideas,” Lanigan said. “The teachers will become more of the guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage.”

As for the future of the project-based learning model, Lanigan believes the FCSD is poised to be a trendsetter in education.

“Our problem is that we’re trying to prepare 21st-century learners in a 20th century model, and somebody’s got to be willing to step outside of that box,” he said. “We’re looking to do that systematically while taking a balanced approach. We’re testing the waters to see how different we want to be.”