Buckle up Gilbert Intermediate fifth graders; you are in for an adventure this school year.

Kristen Carey and teachers of the Gilbert Intermediate fifth grade classes presented to the Stephenville ISD school board Monday evening a plan sure to turn the learning curve on its head, and in a good way.

They are implementing a new way of instruction called Performance-Based Learning, or PBL. It is an instruction tool being applied in classrooms to address the learning needs of the 21st century. Students will practice the application of knowledge, skills and work habits in order to tackle real world situations.

Carey described the method as “problem based learning.” Students are given a real life problem and are allowed the opportunity to solve it. The teacher, rather than being the essential aspect of the learning process, becomes instead a facilitator.

Carey explained children are constantly tuned in to technology and tend to “power down” when placed in the traditional school setting. With PBL students are required to think critically; there are no simple facts to parrot back on a traditional test.

During the process students working as a team research, design and create a product or project to share. In the midst of the group there are roles and responsibilities. And within the process there yet remains a method of assessment.

“It’s what we call a ‘team huddle’,” Carey said. “Each student has an individual to-do list. They must accomplish that to-do list. Throughout the entire process in their problem solving, teachers will be doing individual progress checks. This might be a quiz or a report on a piece of information from the project. There will be points where the teacher can assess knowledge of the student and give a grade.

“For instance, in a research project there might be a summary at the end of the day. The teacher takes a grade after seeing if the student fully understands the concept. If the concept isn’t grasped, the teacher does a work shop with the child independently or in a group, depending upon the number of students who have not grasped the concept.”

Superintendent Dr. Darrell Floyd commended the group for delving into a realm incorporating 21st century learning and urged the school board, who was very receptive to the program, to approach their view on traditional school accountability from a different perspective.

“I am asking the board to be bold and courageous in helping us to put more emphasis on quality teaching strategies and our efforts to reach (students) regarding 21st century learning skills and less emphasis on a state and federal accountability system that emphasizes far too much a one-time high stakes testing where a campus or district gets rated on the lowest common denominator (and the failures of a very few) and gets no credit for the successes that the majority of their students achieve,” he stated.

Teacher Amber Lemons was forthcoming about the exciting, but still daunting task set before her and her fellow fifth grade teachers.

“It’s very scary, but it’s brought us together as far as what we want to get to,” she said. “There are steps to get there. We are excited, but also scared. But kids in the 21st century have to have these tools. We can’t be an old fashioned school.”

Fellow educator Kim Kaiser was in agreement about the benefits.

“This is not ‘kill and drill’ where students tune us out,” she said. “They hold each other accountable. That in itself has more influence than we do, and kids will be more successful.”

Other items tended to included the offering of a public hearing for the proposed budget and tax rate. No one from the community had questions about either.

Also covered was the 2012-2013 hiring schedule which allowed for faculty with 28 or more years of experience to receive a full $1,400 increase in salary. The new schedule was approved.