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April 4, 2013

Kentucky School Aims for “Deeper Learning”

Watch School District Uses Project Based Learning Over Testing on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

While the cheating scandal in Atlanta is prompting discussion about the problems that occur when public schools are too focused on teaching to the test, schools like Danville High School in Danville, Ky., are looking to spend less time on testing and more time on project-based learning.

A typical day in the classroom at Danville High School involves projects with real-world learning, including building rockets, learning the physics of making guitars, teaching preschool students about the spread of germs with glitter and planning cities in geometry.

The Danville School District uses a philosophy called “deeper learning”, which uses project-based learning to inspire creativity, communication, teamwork and problem solving skills in students. Only 1 percent of schools nationwide practice “deeper learning,” but the philosophy is becoming more prominent in discussions about education reform around the country. Danville’s test scores were below the state average and the district hopes that “deeper learning” projects will improve student performance and empower students with opportunities to discover concepts on their own through projects.

Danny Goodman, a Danville High School physics teacher explains that when students in his class use physics to make their own guitars, they take in more knowledge than they realize.

“Are they learning?” he said. “Yes. I feel like they’re probably learning more than they ever would just sitting there hearing me tell them about a certain section of the textbook.”

However, this type of learning takes time, and teachers are still faced with the difficulty of teaching the standards for state testing while making extra time for hands-on projects.


“The world is changing. And I think as — as our kids get older and then try to take on leadership positions, just knowing facts and information isn’t going to help them,” – Michael Strysick, parent.

Warm up questions

1. What does it mean for teachers to “teach to the test”?

2. How do you best learn information? Through reading, hand-on activities, lectures, etc.?

3. What keeps you engaged in school?

Discussion questions

1. Do you think you would like to learn in this type of school? Why or why not?

2. Why do you think more schools do not use this method of learning?

3. What would you change about how schools teach students?

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