The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

State and Nation

April 3, 2014

Ala starting pilot program for new learning system

— DECATUR, Ala. (AP) — At a middle school in Alabama, a student was assigned a project about ingredients used in soap making. She was given a budget, a team composed of classmates and access to a computer.

With that, she was told by her teacher to start a company.

The project required students to collaborate and use critical thinking and communication skills, state Superintendent Tommy Bice said by video at Leon Sheffield Elementary on Wednesday.

"The days of memorizing and passing a test is no longer good enough for our students," he said to explain concepts coming to local classrooms.

Decatur City Schools has been selected to pilot a program called "Project-Based Learning" that could change how education is delivered in Alabama classrooms.

State officials said the new learning standards are part of the state Board of Education's Plan 2020, which is designed to make sure every student graduates ready for college or a career.

Project-based learning focuses more on solving problems than answering questions.

The curriculum supervisor for Decatur schools, Jeanne Payne, said students, in collaboration with their classmates, will be assigned projects to work through, much like they will in the workforce.

She said the days of sitting in rows facing a teacher are over.

"We're having to educate children in real-life situations so they can take what they learn with them," she said.

A team from the Alabama Learning Exchange is at Leon Sheffield this week to prepare the system for implementation of the project-based learning program next school year.

In another example explaining the program, Bice talked about students who asked a teacher why so many students were absent with influenza.

It turned into a program about how to stop the spread of viruses.

Through online research, students did a report about the importance of washing hands and shared what they learned with other students, Bice said.

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