What is the curriculum like?
The curriculum at Bellevue Big Picture is organized around five learning outcomes: Empirical Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning, Social Reasoning, Communication, and Personal Qualities. To satisfy goals in these areas, students learn content in humanities (language arts and social studies), math, science, Spanish, health and fitness, and art/digital media. Curriculum is project-based, aligned with state and national standards, and centered on contemporary issues that relate to students’ interests and activities. All middle school students have an advisory class that focuses on community building, college/career exploration, leadership, goal-setting, and academic and study skills. This course is a cornerstone to developing the Big Picture mission.
Ninth grade students begin the year with a 10-week internship preparation course. By the end of first semester, students work at internships 1-2 days per week, earning academic credit for their internship work.
What is Project-based Learning (PBL)?
In Project Based Learning (PBL), students go through an extended process of inquiry in response to a complex question, problem, or challenge. While allowing for some degree of student "voice and choice," rigorous projects are carefully planned, managed, and assessed to help students learn key academic content, practice 21st Century Skills (such as collaboration, communication & critical thinking), and create high-quality authentic products & presentations.
Rigorous and in-depth Project Based Learning
- Is organized around an open-ended Driving Question or Challenge. These focus students’ work and deepen their learning by centering on significant issues, debates, questions and/or problems.
- Creates a need to know essential content and skills. Typical projects (and most instruction) begin by presenting students with knowledge and concepts and then, once learned, give them the opportunity to apply them. PBL begins with the vision of an end product or presentation which requires learning specific knowledge and concepts, thus creating a context and reason to learn and understand the information and concepts.
- Requires inquiry to learn and/or create something new. Not all learning has to be based on inquiry, but some should. And this inquiry should lead students to construct something new – an idea, an interpretation, a new way of displaying what they have learned.
- Requires critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, and various forms of communication. Students need to do much more than remember information—they need to use higher-order thinking skills. They also have to learn to work as a team and contribute to a group effort. They must listen to others and make their own ideas clear when speaking, be able to read a variety of material, write or otherwise express themselves in various modes, and make effective presentations. These skills, competencies and habits of mind are often known as "21st Century Skills".
- Allows some degree of student voice and choice. Students learn to work independently and take responsibility when they are asked to make choices. The opportunity to make choices, and to express their learning in their own voice, also helps to increase students’ educational engagement.
- Incorporates feedback and revision. Students use peer critique to improve their work to create higher quality products. The focus shifts to improving their work rather than just getting the right answer.
- Results in a publicly presented product or performance. In most of the real adult world what you know is demonstrated by what you do, and what you do is frequently open to public scrutiny and critique. Giving students the opportunity to practice this skill of communication is essential for success after school.
Students gain a deeper understanding of the concepts and standards at the heart of a project. Projects also build vital workplace skills and lifelong habits of learning. The skills learned through PBL are the top 5 skills which employers are looking for in employees in the 21st Century. (NACE press release, 2010) Projects can allow students to address community issues, explore careers, interact with adult mentors, use technology, and present their work to audiences beyond the classroom. PBL can motivate students who might otherwise find school boring or meaningless.
How is PBL used?
The goal of Bellevue BPS is to create a PBL rich experience for students across all grades and courses. Projects vary in length, from several days to several weeks or even a semester. Usually the projects are done in teams of two to four students. This emphasizes the collaborative nature of learning and develops interpersonal communication skills, all of which will be reinforced in the internships.