Program » Project-Based Learning

Project-Based Learning

While traditional school breaks learning down in various disciplines, life is not so easily compartmentalized. Learning takes many forms and involves the integration of a variety of disciplines, using language skills to communicate, math to calculate, an artistic eye to design, and a scientific mind to hypothesize. Using a project-based learning approach, our students are required to apply these and many other skills to solve a problem, build a model, or work through a series of revisions on their way to finalizing an end product.
The Design Thinking model takes project-based learning a step further and views empathy as the center and motivation for design. Understanding the “client” in the design process allows for greater clarity and understanding when trying to solve a problem. Design Thinking incorporates the iterative process, embracing failure as a valuable step along the way to success. The ability to learn through failure, to iterate and persevere are essential skills for today’s student.
PBL in Middle School
Water has played a key role in civilization from ancient times through the present day. Incorporating history, Latin, science, art, religion, and technology classes, Project Quest allows students to explore the many facets of this critical relationship. Over an 8 week course, students conduct research, generate questions, reflect upon and develop ideas, create a self-designed product, and work to solve a present-day water issue.

Approaching their work from scientific, historical, religious, and artistic lenses, students culminate in a final piece represented as a digital book, a video documentary or a TED-style presentation to peers, faculty, and other audience members.

Launch points for the NOW, THEN, ACTION! and SHARE segments of Project Quest can be viewed by clicking here. Each segment contains a description of what students developed, along with links to student work samples where available.
St. Matthew’s offers students an opportunity to apply their learning in two integrated programs in the 3rd trimester of the 7th and 8th grade years.
7th grade students take part in the exciting, interdisciplinary program of STAR - Shakespeare, Theater, Arts and the Renaissance. Throughout this program, students closely read, perform, interpret, analyze, and explore a seminal Shakespeare play in English class. This work happens in tandem with the students’ Art and History classes, in which they learn important socio-historical context about the Renaissance. The unit culminates with a creative, student-driven project about either Shakespeare, Theater, the Arts, or the Renaissance. Students then showcase all of their hard work at the student-hosted San Mateo Renaissance Faire - held here on campus!
DEEP (Diving Education Enrichment Program) combines Math, Science, Technology, and Physical Education. Scuba diving is used as a theme to connect the academics and to, quite literally, provide an immersive experience. The students have scuba diving lessons in our on-campus pool and work in small groups to complete one of several research projects in either a scientific method or engineering track. Students design and create websites to document their work and publish their findings. Over the last decade, DEEP students have built underwater robots, created echo-location devices, and studied the aspects of ocean acidification and aquatic ecosystem resilience. DEEP alumni have published their research in scientific peer-reviewed journals, pursued careers and advanced degrees in science and engineering, and many have dedicated their lives to the protection of the ocean and earth’s natural resources.
The Guppy Project
Students in 5th and 7th Grade gain hands-on experience in the disciplines of Earth and Life sciences through their work on the Guppy Project. The focus of this multi-year experiment is the observation, monitoring, and recording of the health and evolution of guppies. The project’s goal is to provide college-level laboratory experience in the collection of evolutionary data.
5th Grade Scientists play a vital role by ensuring the guppies thrive in a healthy aquatic environment. They conduct regular water quality testing on the tanks for contaminants and pH. Tests include ammonia, ammonium, nitrite, nitrate and pH levels.
7th Grade Scientists explore and research the evolution of Trinidadian guppies in partnership with Dr. David Resnick at the University of California, Riverside. They conduct two yearly censuses of the guppies - collecting data on the population and the evolutionary changes that are taking place.
In addition to our project-based learning curriculum, students in Kindergarten through 8th Grade also have dedicated innovation classes in one of our 3 maker spaces. K-4 students combine STEAM exploration with imaginative play in LaunchPad (our Lower School Makerspace), utilizing tools and materials to encourage creativity, engineering and design thinking. Circuitry, basic coding, and robotics are explored. Middle School students use one of our two Project & Idea Realization Lab (PIRL) spaces for a dedicated innovation class, as well as to create projects in various disciplines including math, history, science, English, foreign language, and religion.
In a concentrated effort to bring technology and innovation to every class on campus, the Middle School has a dedicated Maker & Innovation Coordinator, who works with both students and faculty. The role of the Maker & Innovation Coordinator is to facilitate the use of design thinking and making in new, yet appropriate, ways to help enrich curriculum across all disciplines. In addition to bringing new ideas to the middle school classrooms, they work closely with students to create “dream projects” during Maker Art classes and various electives.