PAA Collaborates With McMinnville School for Project-Based Learning

March 16, 2017 | Liesl Vistaunet

“I believe students learn on a deeper level when we are willing to leave the safety of our everyday classrooms,” says Linda Johnson, Portland Adventist Academy (PAA) teacher.

That’s why Johnson recently took her anatomy and physiology students to McMinnville (Ore.) Adventist Christian School (MACS) for a day of project-based learning (PBL). Her students taught the third- through fifth-graders about the skeletal, muscular, cardiovascular and nervous systems. The students also paired up as lab partners for bone tissue experiments and animal heart and brain dissections.

The collaboration was inspired last summer when Oregon Conference teachers learned how to implement PBL during a Loma Linda University Excellence in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) Experiential Education (EXSEED) conference. Johnson met MACS teacher Verlaine Linrud while on a cadaver lab tour, and the two bonded over the excitement of teaching anatomy. They started talking about how they could team up to reach their PBL goals.

The benefits were mutual: PAA students got to teach younger students and reinforce their learning while MACS students got hands-on discovery experiences and mentorship.

“I was nervous about the teaching part,” says Adoniah Smith, PAA junior. “But I ended up really loving to see our little buddies get so excited about the experiments.”

“I enjoyed the dissections very much,” says MACS student Ireland Duke. “I’m not sure if I liked the brain or the heart better because I enjoyed them both.”

Whether hearts or brains were preferred, the day brought students valuable skills and experiences while smiles and laughter filled the room and important memories were formed.

“Thinking outside the box can be a challenge,” says Johnson, who understands the problems that can arise for Adventist schools working toward PBL goals. “There are field trip transportation issues, missed class time and budget concerns. PBL also requires more materials. You have to have specimens to dissect and safety equipment. These are costly, especially for the smaller schools.”

Despite challenges, Oregon Conference teachers like Johnson and Linrud know that PBL is worth the energy and are committed to implementing PBL. Collaboration is one way to help each other reach these goals.

“The goal is to inspire, to connect, to make a difference in the lives of others, and, ultimately, to be the hands and feet of Christ, our Master Teacher,” says Johnson.

“Students came away that day feeling rewarded,” she says. “They helped to light the fires of curiosity in the minds of their little buddies.”

“It gave me such a good feeling to work with them,” says Smith. “I saw what a blessing it was to share this experience, and I hope we can do it again.”