Project-Based Learning That Reflects the World

At Baker Demonstration School, kids follow their own intellectual curiosities to solve problems and innovate. Learn how.

At Baker Demonstration School, an independent PreK-8 school in Wilmette, project-based  learning is at the core of the curriculum. Through a progressive, inquiry-based education, children collaborate in an inclusive, equitable environment that feeds their social-emotional and intellectual needs.

Baker’s project-based learning model allows students to be active participants in creating their own education, building a lifelong love of learning while fostering teamwork, empathy and leadership skills.

“At Baker students are engaged in a meaningful, authentic question related to a real-world problem or issue that is a part of the communities in which they live,” says Carl , head of school at Baker.

Baker students are engaged in every step of the process as teachers observe and guide them through projects that have real-world applications. Middle school students, for example, learn exponential growth equations by tracking the COVID-19 pandemic — helping them learn math and process the state of the world. First graders apply cultural studies, physics, and biology in their immersive School of Dragonology unit, inspired by the students’ love of fantasy.

Studying the real world

The skills students learn at Baker set them up to succeed in real-world environments. During the two-year Baker Business School project, students learn the entrepreneurial cycle, from prototype design to manufacturing in sustainable and ethical ways to marketing what they’ve created.

“They’re so proud of what they’ve created and it’s incredibly exciting for them to see that they have an audience that actually wants to purchase their products,” says fifth grade teacher Kerah Sandler, who helped create the Baker Business School. At the project’s end, students select a charity to donate their proceeds to, which reinforces community engagement.

With its student-centered approach, project-based learning enables students to nurture their unique perspectives by working on personally engaging projects. “Sometimes rigid adult thinking doesn’t open us to the possibilities that students are able to come up with more readily,” says Sandler.

Impacting change

Baker parent Theresa Volpe watched her daughter Ava promote change in marginalized communities, an effort spring boarded by a fifth grade Baker project. Ava found her social justice voice to raise money and awareness to support homeless LGBTQ teens. Today, she’s a junior at Evanston Township High School, a transition she was well prepared to make after her Baker foundation.

“One of the most impactful things a Baker student learns to do is self-advocate. They know how to ask questions to get what they need and become lifelong learners. They develop a love for learning,” says Volpe, who is also the parent of Baker seventh grader Jaidon and first grader Lennox.

“What we know from Baker graduates is that whatever they’re doing…they’re engaging in service learning, in community connections and purposeful engagement based on the work they’ve done at Baker,” Andrews says.

By working in teams toward a common goal, students discover their individual strengths, which allows them to take the lead at different steps in the process.

“Project-based learning gives students who may not necessarily view themselves as leaders opportunities to take leadership roles,” says Aimee Frank, middle school math teacher at Baker. “I don’t really see one leader emerging in a group, I see a group of three or four or five leaders.”

Learn more about Baker Demonstration School at bakerdemschool.org.

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