Esparza Pushes for Project Based Learning

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Photo Courtesy of Ramona Esparza

Principal Ramona Esparza is leading a district wide initiative to move towards project-based learning. In a class Esparza observed, project-based learning gave students choice in their assignments.

Kahleia Corpuz, Editor-in-Chief

Valley High School Principal Ramona Esparza is currently pushing for more project-based learning in future curriculums.

Project-based learning or PBL is a type of learning that is based around practical use of the subject material. Students can be exposed to real-world problems that they have to use critical thinking skills and problem solving skills to solve. Along with having to deal with real-world issues, students will get choices in how they want to do the assignment and approach it as well.

“I think we look at how people learn and how students learn best,” Esparza said. “I think students really want to care about what they’re learning about. They want to be like the real world. They also want to have a say and have a choice in their learning. I just feel that when I see other schools that use project based learning and implement it that they notice the students become more involved.”

This involvement, according to Esparza, can be contributed to students being interested in and really caring about what they are learning. At the end of last semester, final exams were turned into projects, rather than the regular multiple choice test.

“I think doing semester exams were kind of taking a risk to see if PBL could be successful,” Esparza said. “We found that it was very successful for kids, so for the future, instead of teachers doing things in a traditional way of teaching, they will be moving…project based learning into their units for the next year.”

Esparza once observed a government class that implemented project-based learning. The class was presented with a choice board where there were three different options for students to show their understanding of the topic.

“The teacher was so excited at the end with all the projects the kids produced and with the level of thinking and creativity they showed,” Esparza said. “…like taking a test is boring. I don’t know how reciting back information is showing how you’re learning, and I think there is a deeper learning that is happening with PBL.”

Project-based learning gives students a way to apply their classroom knowledge to the real world while learning how to work collaboratively, how to critically think, and how to problem solve. It allows students to think more creatively and innovatively, according to Esparza.

“I will say that I will try to listen to students first, and the feedback they are sharing is that they would prefer to have that kind of work,” Esparza said. “Also, the teachers enjoy working with their other teachers and working with their groups called PLCs [Professional Learning Committee]. It’s really a win-win with both students and teachers. If kids are more engaged in their learning and have more choice and teachers feel like they can teach those things and concepts, we will see kids getting [better] grades and learning more here at Valley.”

While the idea of project-based learning may seem foreign to students and teachers, Esparza understands that many may not be on board with the idea. However, she assures them that the standards will be met even with the switch from traditional to project based learning.

“I think it is important to say that the teachers do align to the standards, and it is rigorous content,” Esparza said. “Teachers do have to be thoughtful in their planning for PBL. There is really thoughtful planning that teachers have to do. I think students, when they are having fun and enjoying themselves, that it really stays with them, rather than taking a multiple choice test and giving that information back.”