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Guide to Contextual Learning Projects

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What knowledge and skills do you hope students will gain from this project?

Contextual learning projects often emphasize research, writing and presentation skills. For example, students might research an issue in the community and make a presentation about their findings at a city or town meeting. Students might create informational materials about a topic of interest to the community, such as health, nutrition, traffic, parking or local economic development. Students might develop a video, a website, a podcast, or other media to communicate about their topic.

Math topics

Math and Contextual Learning. Students can apply both basic and higher-level math skills in projects, including projects that include analyzing data, business planning, building and pattern-making, working with maps, working with spreadsheets and graphing software, exploring physics and engineering, and using math in computer programming and web design.

Interdisciplinary Learning Opportunities: The Park Stewards Program at the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park, featured in the Contextual Learning Portal, offers a very rich multidisciplinary learning opportunity.

Whaling project

Contextual learning projects also often emphasize math skills, including basic applied math, data analysis, and higher-order math. Students might apply data analysis, graphing and statistical skills to gathering data or analyzing survey results for a community project. Students might apply business math skills to an entrepreneurial project. Higher-level algebra and geometry can be explored as well, such as using algebraic formulas or geometric grids in a computer programming project, or exploring the math used in an environmental, physics or engineering project.

Along with research, writing, presentation and math skills, contextual learning projects often build lifelong learning skills and lifelong “literacies” including health literacy, environmental literacy, economic literacy, media literacy and civic literacy.

Certain academic subjects are especially likely to provide contexts for contextual learning projects, particularly history, health and biology/ecology. Career vocational/technical subjects provide frequent contexts for community-based and workplace-based projects, using skills in carpentry, horticulture, computer technology, graphic design, engineering technology and more.

Workplace experiences frequently provide opportunities for building academic knowledge and skills as well as career skills and career awareness. For example, students working in summer internships in a museum or zoo may create new exhibits or display boards for visitors, applying research, writing and illustration skills to the task. Students working in a day care center, day camp or nursing home activities program may design new activities, including researching, writing and teaching the activity. Students working in a health club may read about exercise programs and learn about how new members are oriented to the health club activities. Students working in a bank may learn to create spreadsheets for analyzing financial information. Internships in media, journalism, the arts, engineering, technology, healthcare, education, childcare, retailing, environment, agriculture and multiple other fields provide valuable exposure to applied academic skills and career skills.

The Contextual Learning Portal is organized around checklists of the curriculum frameworks, 21st century skills framework and other skill sets and frameworks, allowing viewers to browse projects by frameworks and skills used. As of 10/17/2018 there are 353 projects in the portal, with the average project touching on two or more subject areas:

Subject Area Number of Projects
English Language Arts204
Contextual Learning Projects often take an interdisciplinary approach to topics of interest:

Ecological Explorations
Webster Public Schools

Community Garden
Westfield Public Schools

“Postcards” History Project
Malden Public Schools