Linn-Mar Students ‘Learn Real-World Skills’ in New Project-Based Venture Program


Katelyn Castor (left), MacLynn Hannan (center) and Kelsey Infanger (front right), all ninth graders, work on their children’s book project Friday during class hours at the based program on the Venture project from Linn-Mar High School to the district office building in Marion. (Rebecca F. Miller / The Gazette)

Ameriz Nielsen, a junior, (front center) works on a tablet during Friday class hours at Linn-Mar High School’s Venture Program. This is the first year of the project-based learning program after the school has terminated its partnership for such learning programs with Iowa BIG. (Rebecca F. Miller / The Gazette)

Makayla Clark, a senior, works on a project Friday during class hours of the Venture Program at Linn-Mar High School. (Rebecca F. Miller / The Gazette)

Makayla Clark, a senior, works on a project Friday during class hours of the Venture Program at Linn-Mar High School. (Rebecca F. Miller / The Gazette)

MARION – Linn-Mar High School students learn science and creative writing skills and ‘real-world learning skills’ by writing children’s books in new hands-on learning program project-based.

For the new Venture Earth Science course, Chase Cubbage, 14, a freshman last week read a book he wrote featuring what he learned about earthquakes and tornadoes and received constructive criticism from his peers. Other students in the class also write their own books. Illustrations for the books are created by students of Venture’s Digital Design and Communication course. The books will then be handed over to Linn-Mar primary schools.

This is the first year of Linn-Mar High School’s project-based Venture program after the district ended its five-year partnership with Iowa BIG last year. In ending the partnership, the district cited both the cost and its desire to make the program more accessible to its students by having it on campus.

In the Iowa BIG program – a concept championed by The Gazette’s parent company as the community rebuilds itself after the historic 2008 flood – high school students are teaming up with companies to work on projects. This gives its students the opportunity to learn and use real-world skills such as leadership, responsibility, and teamwork on projects they are passionate about, while earning high school credits.

Between 70 and 100 Linn-Mar students had enrolled at Iowa BIG each year before. Today, approximately 100 students are enrolled in the district’s first year Venture program. There are approximately 1,200 students at Linn-Mar High.

Students learn about careers in Eastern Iowa, identify and research answers to problems in their own community, manage their time, and work collaboratively in Venture.

Elyssa McDowell, Linn-Mar’s Strategic Partnerships Coordinator, said it “brings learning to life.”

“The students didn’t learn like that. The teachers didn’t teach like that, ”McDowell said. “As a Venture team, we are all learners, and we all adapt and find creative solutions and collaborate with each other.”

Listening to a lecture, taking notes, processing information, studying and taking a test are always important life skills, McDowell said. But Venture offers a way for students to put their knowledge into practice.

Already, students have studied and designed vertical gardens for indoor residential use in a life sciences course. Another group traveled to Palisades-Kepler State Park to study geographic features and took water samples at Indian Creek in Marion.

Throughout the year, students will have more opportunities to come up with their own original projects and realize them.

“We are trying to open the walls of the classrooms,” said Mark Hutcheson, director of secondary education and learning at Linn-Mar. “Project-based learning is the teachers running alongside the students. It is a real change for our teachers to let go of some of that control.

Venture offers 10 learning tracks: Advanced Business, Behavioral Sciences, Corporate Foundations, Earth Sciences, Environmental Sciences, Government and Law, Graphic Arts, Health Sciences, Life Sciences and Writing.

Instead of individual 45-minute lessons, students enrolled in a Venture track take a series of lessons over a three-hour period. For example, a government and law student will take a government course, a law course, and a college writing course that will end with a project.

Students will still have the option of taking courses in the traditional setting as one-off courses.

Project-based students demonstrate their skills and earn course credit by completing projects and making presentations instead of taking a test.

A recent end-of-term survey showed that students are learning at the same level as they would in a traditional classroom and feel confident about what they are doing in the process.

Charlotte McDermott teaches her first project-based class as an Earth Sciences teacher for the Venture program. It’s “awesome and stressful,” she said, but relates what students learn in class to “real life.”

Venture classrooms are more like collaborative workspaces with plush seating like sofas and a variety of tables and desks.

There is a “community” of first grade girls in her Earth Science class who are learning to collaborate and criticize each other.

Kelsey Infanger, 15, a freshman, said she remembers what she learns better in her Venture class than in the traditional class.

MacLynn Hannan, 15, also a freshman, said her grades were improving because she was doing project-based work where she can prove her knowledge of what she’s learned instead of taking tests “memory-based”.

“It’s a different way of doing business, but our teachers really embraced it and used it,” Hutcheson said. “Our children are having a great experience because of this.”

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