8th graders building-site plan project wows Gilford School Board

GILFORD — There are some eight graders at the Middle School who just may be future planners.

As part of a three-month long project-based learning class, three of science teacher Nancy Allen's students — Gabby Podmore, Kaya Beland, and Jenna Galligan — have created a site plan for a real home building project in North Carolina.

As part of the project, the girls had to learn about permeable verses impermeable surfaces (or how the ground absorbs or repels water), what kinds of trees, shrubs and grasses are native to their spot in North Carolina, and how to rescale an engineering diagram to build a to-scale 3D replica of the proposed building site and it environs.

Last week they presented their project to the School Board, which was completely overwhelmed by the complexity of the task and the ability of the girls — working with some community partners like Town Planner John Ayer and Selectman Kevin Hayes (a civil engineer) — to create a sophisticated building site plan.

Allen told the School Board that the purpose of project-based learning was to integrate various skills into one project. In this exercise, the students were teamed in threes and randomly given a building project.

The job at hand, was to research the applicable zoning laws for that community — teaching reading for comprehension and government — to include calculating the measurements steep slopes — using math and trigonometry — and to rescale the project — again using math and engineering. Each project had to incorporate a landscape plan that required the students to know enough forestry and geology to know soil types, plant types, wetlands, and enough meteorology to understand weather patterns for storm water runoff and ground covers.

While determining where the house would go on the empty lot, the teams had to research fire codes.

At one point, because of the zoning laws, setback requirements and curb cuts, team Podmore-Beland-Galligan told the board they had to turn their house to face a different direction from the plans they were originally presented.

"Once we figured out where to build it, we had to design a silt fence," said one while another explained how they had to calculate the number of plants and trees they could remove and had to plant to stay within the requirements.

"Every area we cleared we had to add trees," said one.

Allen said all of the teams were making a final presentation to a mock Planning Board comprised of teachers and administrators.

She said one of the best things was how invested the students became in their plans. Allen said the students would walk down the halls talking about their projects.

Hayes said he sat in on four or five of the presentations last Friday as a judge.

"I was amazed at how the teacher was able to integrate reading, writing, presentations and technology into their projects," Hayes said, noting each team had a "techie" who created a PowerPoint presentation.

He said he was also impressed with the way Allen was able to sustain interest in the projects throughout the three-month project time.

Hayes said the students came away with an understanding of the task and how each piece of the puzzle was derived.

"They understood why and that's important," he said.


CAPTION (Gilford 8th grade project) Gabby Podmore, Kaya Beland, Jenna Galligan show their to-scale model of their building project to the Gilford School Board assigned as part of their project-based learning class. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Gail Ober)