Every community faces challenges every day. Some challenges are small, and some are part of even larger challenges facing many communities across the country. But every challenge brings with it an opportunity for growth.
By tying classroom learning goals to identifying solutions to a community challenge, teachers can bridge the gap between theory and practice that sometimes exists for students. This is a pedagogical approach with its basis in project based learning called service learning.
The goals of this approach can differ from class to class, but generally speaking, they are to connect classroom concepts to the real world, strengthen the ties between the school and the community, and empower young people to effect positive change in the world around them.
Sometimes, though, kids need a push to get excited and motivated to take on service learning projects and give them their best efforts from day one. That’s where utilizing a special event to bring attention to the challenges that the class will be addressing can be invaluable.
National Theater for Children specializes in presenting live and streamed productions with professional actors, graphic novels, and other materials to help draw attention to challenges faced by many communities across America and to generate excitement in the student body to address those challenges.
By working alongside NTC and local school districts, corporate outreach and education programs can make their efforts more effective through the power of project based learning lesson plans.
So how does this approach work? And what are some project based learning benefits?
Planning the Process
Communication and planning are the biggest keys to any successful education and outreach effort. The learning objectives for the students should be clearly established so that there is a shape to the projects that will be used to improve the community.
Those objectives should relate to state education standards, to relevant subject matter from the class in question, and to the goals for community outreach and improvement of the sponsoring business or businesses.
However, to ensure that students maintain a measure of control over their projects, there must also be flexibility. For example, if a utility company is helping fund a unit on improving community use of renewable energy sources, the kids in the class must have enough agency to design their project in order to see the best results.
Because that level of student agency is what makes service learning projects work. The students are engaged because they are in control of their projects and get to assert control over a problem that they have observed in their own community while applying concepts from school in real-world situations.
So with good communication between corporate sponsors, school administrators, and teachers, plans can be put in place to implement project based learning ideas that students can then make their own.
But how do you introduce the topic and drum up students’ excitement to learn more and take action?
Entertainment as an Educational Tool
National Theater for Children is an incredible resource for organizations looking to jumpstart project based learning initiatives.
NTC has crafted plays and supplementary material on a wide variety of topics. These topics include developing better disaster responses in your community and how young people can make a difference with local environmental action— they even have a program to teach middle schoolers about money management!
Whether streamed or performed live, the programs offered by NTC are designed to meet educational standards and complement the lessons being taught about each program’s subject. Professional actors from all over the country bring fun, informative productions into schools that bring awareness to important topics and can serve as a gateway to educational community involvement.
And because NTC’s programs are designed with state educational standards in mind, the content of the program is virtually guaranteed to dovetail perfectly with the in-class lesson plans that will culminate in the project based learning at the heart of this initiative.
Tackling a Community Challenge
So you’ve made contact with a school district, you’ve outlined the goals of your outreach initiative and paired with the appropriate teachers, and looked into a date to serve as a kickoff for the unit to begin. What comes next?
Since your educational outreach will pertain to a specific area of community engagement and service, such as renewable energy, Your liaison with the school can work with educators to develop a project planning sheet for students.
These can include a timeline for their projects, contacts within your organization that students can connect with if their project demands it, and checklists for different types of service projects. That way, no matter what specific community challenge the students choose to tackle under the general umbrella you’ve already established with their instructor, they will have some idea of what to do.
Project planning sheets can also give students prompts to recognize which concepts from their studies they will be using in their projects. That helps when the time comes for reflection— the key to ensuring that students have recognized and internalized the lessons at the heart of this project based unit.
The Benefits of Investing in Project Based Learning
Project based learning is an excellent way for students to apply the principles and concepts they’ve been learning in school in a way that is both practical and tangible. And when combined with the community focused nature of service learning, project based learning benefits can be felt by more than just the students doing the work.
Of course, the people who benefit the most from project based learning strategies are the students themselves. Studies have shown that project based pedagogical approaches improve student outcomes across grade levels.
And when those projects are focused on addressing a community challenge, those outcomes get even better. Young people like to feel that they have some measure of control over their own world, and service learning projects give that to them.
That sense of agency is what is service learning’s key to success. By creating an avenue for students to affect change and a space to reflect on how their in-class lessons allowed that change to take shape, service, and project based learning encourage knowledge retention, confidence, a sense of community and accomplishment, and, in many cases, stronger grades.
Teachers benefit from the improved student outcomes brought about by project based learning lesson plans, as well. And for those educators seeking to advance their own education, overseeing these projects can provide an avenue for thesis or dissertation research.
The relationship between a school district and its community can sometimes be tense. So having students going into the community to address challenges with the tools the community’s property taxes have partly paid for helps keep potential tension low.
And in some cases, such as a project that includes a funding drive to install solar panels for the school, these projects can wind up ensuring that the community’s taxes are being used as effectively and efficiently as possible.
These projects are a great opportunity for your company to increase the visibility of your community involvement as well as an excellent chance for students to put their studies to practical use. Having your brand attached to efforts from young people to bring positive change to their communities looks good and ensures you get the most out of your outreach initiatives.
In the long term, a positive association with your brand from students that have taken part in your educational programs can lead to quality candidates for internships, and other career opportunities as those students enter college and the workforce.
Communities cannot help but benefit from programs that encourage community engagement from schools, students, and corporate entities. Being able to show how the community works together to overcome challenges can be very attractive to people looking to find a place to raise their families and to businesses looking to open new locations.
A Valuable Lesson
Using project based learning to reinforce concepts and ideas from the classroom and give students a sense of how the things they read in their textbooks can have practical applications is a tried and true pedagogical practice.
Even when a project has a scale that is limited to the classroom, it can yield very strong student outcomes. By adding the element of service learning to those projects, the number of benefits for the people involved increases exponentially.
And for some students, utilizing project based learning can completely turn their academic fortunes around. Not everyone learns the same way, and having a project on which they can focus allows some learners to shine brighter than they have before.
But all of this hinges on quality communication, planning, and securing student interest while generating excitement for addressing the community challenge at the heart of your educational outreach agenda.
Leveraging the power of the programs offered by NTC is the best way to engage and excite students. The humor, educational content, and accessibility of our programs take students out of their normal school headspace and point them at issues in their community that they may not have considered before.
Service oriented, project based learning is a great way to teach young people the power they have to improve the world around them. NTC can play a key role in unlocking that power and optimizing your community outreach dollars.
Don’t miss out on making a difference and reaping the benefits.