[caption id=”attachment_353” align=”aligncenter” width=”348”] Ottawa Christian School’s Grade 7 students learn from a Home Depot team member as part of their “real-world” insulation project.[/caption]
With the three-dimensional image of a local resident’s house shining on a screen at the front of the classroom, Laurence Stassen led his Grade 7 students in calculating the home’s surface area. They were doing this to figure out how much new material the homeowner would require to re-insulate his basement.
That moment was one of the most exciting parts of a recent unique project Stassen’s class undertook, the Ottawa Christian School teacher says.
“As a teacher of math, that was powerful,” Stassen says. “I finally had something where I could say to the kids, ‘Look, this is exactly where people (calculate surface area), and now you’re doing it, not just to answer a problem, but to help this person.’ ”
Stassen has been weaving what is known as project-based learning into his teaching approach. The project required students to work together to create a proposal for re-insulating a local resident’s home as part of a unit on heat.
Stassen put out a notice to the school community that the class was interested in creating such a proposal and had several responses. He was also able to connect with someone who works in the insulation industry and owns an infrared camera.
The class then visited the community member’s home that had been selected, along with the insulation professional.
Together they toured the house, which had been originally built in the late 1800s, viewing the existing insulation with the infrared camera.
This was followed by a class trip to Home Depot, where a conversation took place with the support staff on different insulation types. Insulation products run the gamut from bulky fiber materials such as fiberglass, rock and slag wool, cellulose, and natural fibers to rigid foam boards.
The visit also underscored for Stassen the value in bringing learning outside the classroom, as students asked their own questions and received insights from someone other than their teacher.
The project then entailed choosing the type of insulation the class would recommend to the homeowner, based on their conversation with the Home Depot staff and other research. The students also took detailed measurements of the home and entered those into Google SketchUp, a free software program that creates three-dimensional models. The students calculated the surface area needing insulation and created a spreadsheet of cost calculations for all the materials required. In many cases, small groups worked on various aspects of the project while the rest of the students continued with the regular curriculum. A final step entailed writing out and then presenting the proposal to the homeowner.
Project-based learning involves students exploring real-world problems and challenges, including possible solutions to those challenges. The approach is hands-on, largely student-directed, and involves the creation of something that demonstrates what students have learned to more than just the teacher. It has seen increasing uptake within the Ontario Alliance of Christian Schools (OACS) membership in recent years.
Two of Stassen’s students shared what surprised and challenged them most about their assignment.
“One thing that surprised me is how many different kinds of insulation there are and everything that they do differently,” says Bethany, noting she was intrigued to learn, for instance, that while pink fibreglass insulation tends to be the most popular it’s not necessarily the best.
“We chose Roxul because it stops convection and conduction which the pink fibreglass does not. The pink fibreglass you could hold a torch up to it and the stranding areas will get hot,” she says.
Isaiah says he was interested to learn how many different kinds of materials are actually needed to insulate a house.
Challenges to the work included determining exactly the volume of the various materials required and then figuring out the costs, Bethany says.
Isaiah agrees, noting there was some hard physical work involved as items in the homeowner’s basement had to be moved so they could complete all the measurements.
But both Isaiah and Bethany are enthusiastic about this type of learning.
Both say they retained knowledge better because they engaged more than just their eyes and brains.
Isaiah also makes the point that it’s a fun way to learn. “You don’t just have to sit there and read a book; you can go places, figure out prices, measure things.”