During the 2016 summer Olympics, teachers at Owensboro Innovation Academy began discussing nation competitions. As the conversation progressed, the teachers believed creating a nation-building project and competition could be a way to interest students in project-based learning. Three years later, the OIA Opening Project has become more competitive and exciting than originally discussed.
On Wednesday, as most secondary teachers were doing class introductions and expectations for the year, students at OIA were discovering that their 14 teachers would be facilitators during the three-day Nation Building and Wind Powered Vessel Competition.
Jon Richard, one of the project’s founders said, “Our goal isn’t to simply teach the students, but facilitate their learning.”
Over three hundred OIA students were divided into 14 nations with the expectation of each nation building two boats with at least eight of the 22 students specifically working on the boats.
“For new students, we want to introduce project-based learning in an exciting, competitive way. New students will learn from upperclassmen, allowing for many of their fears and hesitations to be addressed. For upper-class students, our goal is to restart the project-based learning engine by providing an extrinsic goal of winning the competition at the end of the project,” Richard said.
The facilitators’ purpose was to steer students in the right direction, and not to simply provide answers but an opportunity for discovery.
“We want them to ask ‘why, how, what do we need to know’ before supplying the answer,” Richard said, adding “We want the students to learn how to ask the right questions to get the right answer.”
For example, Richard believes that providing students with a PowerPoint explaining ballast in the boat design will provide little learning for the student; however, when students notice their ship is turning over, they will see the need for ballast and work together to correct it.
Friday morning students turned their boats in for inspection. They were also able to see other nations’ boats and commented to each other which boats should not be allowed to race based on the requirements given on Wednesday.
After inspection, students walked to the Brescia University Science Building to watch the 14 presentations of flags and monuments. Groups took the stage to present ideas that had been conceptualized and created Wednesday and Thursday. Each group had a motto for the selected nation and this was thematic of the monument the group created.
Nervous jitters from the students presenting were met with attentive peers, each trying to find a balance in this new school atmosphere. The theme of OIA providing a different atmosphere echoed throughout the presentations.
In the afternoon, nations gathered for a preliminary run of the two boats each group made. This allowed them to choose the best boat to race in the finals and make modifications before the finals and gave each nation one last attempt to raise their score.
The facilitators used this project to develop deep thinkers who can see the solution as more than a simple answer. Many schools in our districts are attempting to provide students with engaging learning experiences that require rigorous thought.
Taken school-wide at OIA, this concept brought students together in a way few classrooms are able to during the first week of school. It also allowed the freshmen to immediately realize this experience will be far different than previous years.
Richard said, “We want them to have the skills to construct the steps to achieve their goal of solving the problem and to see learning as a lifelong adventure.”