In room 101 in California Area Elementary School, a brightly colored classroom with a “Shoot for the Moon” banner hanging outside the front door, more than a dozen students were happily engaged in a variety of projects on a recent Thursday.
A group of third- and fourth-graders were assembling a rain barrel for a project to help reduce storm water runoff; other students were studying languages – among them, Spanish, French, Welch and Latin. One fifth-grader was researching coral reefs, while a classmate was working on coding and studying about Mt. Everest.
In all, 26 students in grades 1 through 10 in California Area School District participate in Remake Learning Network’s Moonshot Grant program.
CASD was awarded a $70,000 grant and implemented a pilot program – founded on Montessori curriculum and other instructional sources, that develops an individual learning plan for every participating student, based on their interests.
“It’s their ‘passion class.’ Anything they’re passionate about and want to learn more about, they can do it here,” said teacher Heather Nicholson. “When we first met with parents and students to talk about the program, we said, ‘The world is your oyster, what do you want to learn?’”
Students participate in regular classes, but as part of the Moonshot program, they work with Nicholson on special projects they want to pursue, either individually or as a group.
Other topics students are studying this year are the American Revolution, bees, outer space, and finances and budgeting. Ally Neil, a second-grade student, has been learning French and taking ballet lessons.
Students don’t receive a grade for the yearlong class.
“There is a lot of hands-on learning and flexibility. We want students to be engaged, excited about learning, and learning about things they’re interested in. There are no grades, no grade levels, no boxes for them to fit in,” said Nicholson.
Fifth-grader Adeline Hatfield, who plans to become a marine biologist, is studying both Spanish and learning about aquatic life and coral reefs.
“I really love Moonshot. I think it’s a better learning environment because I get to study about what I want to learn about and learn it at my own pace. It’s a lot of fun. I love coming here,” she said.
Three groups of students, ranging from elementary to high school students, are assembling, painting and distributing rain barrels in the community through Barrels by the Bay, a nonprofit organization that provides Coca-Cola syrup barrels to participants, who convert them into rain barrels, paint them and donate them.
The students are learning about the world’s water issues and the importance of water conservation efforts.
In a solo project, fifth-grader Max Todd, who was adopted from Russia, decided to focus on building 3D printers and learning about the country from which he was adopted.
Fifth-grader Ian Grodz, who was working on Bitsbox, coding projects that teach students how to program apps, also wanted to tackle a project about Mt. Everest, a subject that fascinates him. Grodz discussed his future plans to become an engineer and inventor, and his goal to work on rocket ships for NASA.
“I’m very interested in Mt. Everest and everything about it. I want to learn about how people survive, or how people don’t survive,” he said.
Grodz described Moonshot as “awesome.”
“I like it because, sometimes in fourth grade, we learned something and I thought, ‘Oh, my gosh, fifth grade is coming and I get to learn new things, but then it was a repeat of things I know,” he explained. “With this, I get to learn what I want to learn at my own pace. It’s cool.”
California University of Pennsylvania plans to study the program, and if it determines Moonshot benefits students, CASD will pursue funding to continue and possibly expand the program.
Additionally, the Washington County Community Foundation awarded a $1,000 grant to CASD for Moonshot.