George Lucas Educational Foundation

Magnets for Innovation: Year-Round Project-Based Learning

Innovative education in a Florida elementary school.
By Edutopia
Edutopia Team
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Gardendale Elementary Magnet School, in Merritt Island, Florida, is actually four theme-based schools in one. Its School of Performing Arts emphasizes projects in music, dance, and drama. The School of Math and Science features hands-on activities such as growing tobacco worms and observing metamorphosis. The School of Arts and Culture concentrates on world cultures and languages. In the School of Microsociety, students engage in real-world activities like operating an in-school postal system, managing a bank with its own currency, and publishing newspapers.

In order to guide all this activity, teachers take leadership roles in all school operations. Each school is managed by a lead teacher who works with the faculty and principal on academic and administrative issues. Another teacher serves as a specialist in the school's theme, helping fellow educators gather resources, plan units, and develop projects.

Other innovations at Gardendale enable teachers to expand their roles beyond traditional teaching. Adjoining classrooms make it easier for teachers to collaborate or serve as mentors to each other. The school's year-round schedule of nine weeks in, three weeks out reduces teacher burnout and gives them time to further their professional development and create thematic units reflecting each school's focus.

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