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Excellence in Project-Based Learning

Alison Maynard, Deputy Chief Executive, Tyne Coast College
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If preparation is everything, then young learners at Career College North East are destined to go into the world of work forearmed and forewarned.

Uppermost among the breadth of skills they learn during their two years on this unique, vocationally-driven training path are those that target project based learning.

Currently topical, it is in no way new but it is an important component in the skills armoury of people moving from education into industry who may be tasked with developing new systems.

Happily, we are leading the way in factoring this into our programmes, having picked up a Career Colleges Trust award for this element of our work earlier this year.

Our focus on project based learning links us firmly to businesses seeking to employ talented youngsters who can easily demonstrate their ability in this arena.

In a way, it is a simple concept – how to get from start to finish of any project without costly or time-consuming mishap, yet it is fraught with the potential for major mistakes.

Being able to demonstrate a skilled grasp of a project’s beginning and end point takes time and effort to develop, yet can be immensely rewarding in terms of professional development and career progress.

In a similar fashion to undertaking the weekly shop without a list and paying over the odds for unwanted items, much can go wrong, but with more careful planning, little will.

Career College North East, which delivers expert vocational courses in engineering, ICT and maritime to 14-16 learners, takes a hands-on approach to teaching the fundamentals of project based learning.

This is demonstrated through each of our year groups being set a task that requires them to learn and develop skills specific to it.

These can include resource planning, such as the manpower needed, the costs involved and the materials required, and overall project management, which takes in geographical location and siting.

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In a real-life project undertaken by our current Year 11 pupils – those who joined us in September 2018 and are now on their second and final year – this involved planning the construction of a small education centre for special needs students.

Known as a ‘learning shed’, it is about to be constructed in a pleasant quadrangle at South Tyneside College, one of two centres where Career College North East undertakes learning.

To get to this point took many weeks of planning and saw students carry out a series of project analysis tasks, all monitored on a self-developed GANTT chart on which was plotted the precise project requirements and progress, stage by stage.

Starting with a plan to visit multiple retailers to find best price, getting materials delivered to the right location at the correct time and buying the tools needed to put the shed together, were also incorporated.

Other features were ensuring the shed’s foundations were level, acquiring the right contents to go inside – and even placing them in the correct position to be of use to the students who will ultimately use them.

Before the final scheme left the drawing board, students also had to present their ideas to career college managers, a process useful in developing their confidence to competently address those in positions of authority.

While many of these points seem simple concepts, at any level of project based learning the skill is in the planning and ensuring that every element required for success is in place at each point and at the right time.

From little acorns mighty oaks grow, and with an understanding of these fundamentals, our students are ingrained with a workplace concept that can bring rich rewards for themselves and for the companies they will one day work for.

Overall, project based learning fits easily within the progressive, high-quality vocational and academic learning model on which Career College North East is based.

 

It is a model that is giving young people the skills to power them into well-paid and meaningful employment in crucial sectors on which the UK economy relies.

Alison Maynard, Deputy Chief Executive, Tyne Coast College

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