Project Based Learning is a teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge. While discussing problems to solve, 8th graders in Mrs. Addie Rouses’s science class at Olmstead School looked in their own backyard at school and came up with the idea of redoing the outdoor classroom.

Student Paul Quincey Perez said, “I know that the current outdoor classroom is very old and run down and pretty much unused. Now that we have to stay far apart and wear masks constantly, it would be a blessing to go outside and be allowed to take our masks off while we learn. So we came together and decided to revamp the area to make it a much more useful and safer learning area.”

Now the students are working on plans for taking out the existing benches and coming up with ideas to replace them along with other changes. They were told the sky is the limit on ideas, but they needed to research costs, fundraising, and construction needs, as well as come up with thoughts about getting help from parents and the community.

Laura Brown said, “One idea to put in play is that it needs to be wheelchair accessible, of course.”

Luke Johnson said, “A garden would look nice. New benches and a podium are needed to replace the ones that are worn out and old.”

Landon Burchett suggested, “We need a large covered area that we could stay in even if it’s raining.”

Several students who thought a garden would be nice to have as a part of their learning experience felt that a shed for the gardening tools and some fencing would also be needed. Some thought concrete flooring would make the area usable even in bad weather. Students were also told to prioritize what needs to be done first and could be accomplished this year.

Principal Bonnie Watson listened to presentations and asked students why this would be a good project to start halfway through their final year at Olmstead. Students were clearly excited to answer that question.

“Even though we won’t be able to use it for long because we will be going to the high school, we will be leaving something at this school that others can use,” said McKenna Mayhew.

Maddie George agreed. “I think it will be pretty cool to get to do something like this for our school, especially since it’s my last year at OMS!”

Nikolas Lovitt said, “Future students will be able to use it, and that makes me feel like I’m doing something good.”

Rachel Menees followed up that idea with, “I can’t wait to hear all the stories about what teaching and learning go on here when I’m in high school.”

Watson pointed out that Mrs. Rouse was once an Olmstead student, and now is back in school teaching. “Wouldn’t it be cool to find yourself back at Olmstead as a staff member or as a parent and say, ‘Hey, I helped do this when I was in 8th grade?’ ”

So, how will the students get started on making this project a reality? They will soon be asking parents and community members as a first priority to help them remove the benches and other structures that are currently there. Then, fundraising and requests for donations will follow to replace the seating. Students feel that picnic tables will be a good replacement for the benches.

Watson said, “I’m looking forward to seeing what this great group of students will accomplish over the next few months.”