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Hillsboro Charter students show off project-based learning

Two students demonstrate the use of a flight simulator at Hillsboro Charter Academy’s Innovation Lab at the Nov. 10 Exhibition of Learning. Times-Mirror/Veronike Collazo
It may be a small school, but big things are happening at Hillsboro Charter Academy.

The school hosted its Exhibition of Learning Nov. 10, when students of all grade levels shared projects with the Hillsboro community. Each class took on projects to make the curriculum come to life and then presented the projects and the process behind them.

“We try to guide them in certain directions and give them advice around how they can make that project more relevant to future learning,” Principal Mark Wertheimer said. “Really what this whole exhibition is about is process. So this isn’t your typical science fair where you see these polished end products. You see actual kid work.”

Projects were diverse in topic and approach. The fifth grade split up into groups to each create a project about balancing the needs of one student with the needs of the whole.

One group tackled the need of hunger and crated a mint dispenser made out of egg cartons that organized the mints by individual student and allotted four mints per student per week. The thinking was the egg cartons presented a visual way to let the teacher know who had gotten mints and prevented students from being distracted because of hunger.

The first and second grade put on folk dancing performances to share local history and also made historic toys, which were then sold at the event.

Students presented projects in a “TED-talk” style and took questions from members of the community. Others led activities like walking attendees through using flight simulators and other technologies in the Innovation Lab.

Wertheimer said the students’ willingness and eagerness to speak to strangers about what they’d learned was a large component of the event and Hillsboro Charter Academy’s year-long work.

“One of the components we have here is this ability to communicate as far as what they’re learning and how they’re doing things. Looking at a lot of the 21st century skills which involve that networking ability,” Wertheimer said. “So it’s not just a solo worker anymore. They’re doing a lot of collaborative work, they develop projects on their own, they have to learn how to give and take in that context.”

Hillsboro Charter Academy opened its doors in 2016. The small school prides itself in offering an individualized learning environment with integrated STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and math) learning with a strong emphasis in hands-on projects.

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