Project based learning in an outdoor agricultural center is enhancing academics and creating enthusiasm in one Kansas school. At Chase County Elementary School Outdoor Learning Center in Strong City, students are working directly with animals.
In addition to traditional classrooms, the elementary school, which is part of Chase County Unified School District 284, has a teaching barn with animal pens, chicken coop with a classroom, greenhouse and recycling/composting operation.
Sixth-grader Cael Budke said he likes hands-on learning, such as learning about weights and measurements while preparing paper collected in classrooms for recycling.
“You pay attention so you’re learning better,” Cael said. “It’s a lot more fun.”
Madison said the project based learning model allows students to solve problems on their own rather than rely on the teacher for answers.
“This will help us later on,” she said.
Principal David Warner said the Chase County Elementary School Outdoor Learning Center was implemented this fall after much research and community involvement.
When Warner was hired as principal two years ago, the board of education asked him how he would transition the school to meet Common Core standards and curb declining enrollment at the rural district.
He said transitioning to Common Core was relatively easy: Teachers took advantage of academies and other educational opportunities to learn what was needed.
“Declining enrollment — I was at a loss with it,” he said.
Then Warner remembered a program he had wanted to start at his former school but never got off the ground: a school-based calf and sheep operation.
When he shared his idea last fall, a patron asked if he had visited the Walton 21st Century Rural Life Center, a charter elementary school east of Newton that has a teaching barn, greenhouse and wind turbine.
Warner said the project-based learning school in Walton, which had been facing closure because of declining enrollment, has been so successful that there is a waiting list for students, as well as a waiting list for instructors who want to teach there.
“I was blown away,” he said of his reaction during a visit to the school. “I thought what could I do to mirror this.”