081 – Project-Based Learning with Ben Owens

Project-Based Learning with Ben Owens

“You name a metric. We’re rockin’ it, and I think it’s not because we spend all our time focusing on test prep. It’s because we put students in scenarios where we relate the curriculum to what they care about. Then they have choice and voice in how they respond to that and what projects they work on.” –Ben Owens

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[In This Episode][Guest Bio][Additional Notes][Text Transcript]

In This Episode

  • Are there important innovators and inventors in public schools?
  • Can being an engineer prepare you for the classroom?
  • How can a public school bring project-based learning into every class?

080 - Ben Owens 02Join us as we speak with a true educational inventor from the mountains of western North Carolina.

Welcome to the Table Top Inventing podcast where we bring fresh perspectives at the intersection of innovation, education, and parenting.

You have probably heard of 3D printing by now and possibly even the term “maker education”, and if you are a teacher, you have certainly heard the term “project-based learning”. For those not familiar with the term, imagine going to school, but instead of sitting at desks in rows doing worksheets, you spend the day building catapults, writing new computer games, or growing a garden.

Project-based learning is like a rich canvas on which to hang all of those seemingly disconnected facts such as torque and momentum or cell division. However in school, educators often worry about meeting standards such as Common Core or in getting students ready to pass their yearly competency tests.

Yet the very best educators out there know that something is amiss with a system when we begin “teaching to the test” rather than helping students learn how to learn. Ben Owens is just such an educator, but he isn’t teaching at a private school. He isn’t talking about projects in a homeschool environment.

080 - Ben Owens 05Ben is a high school teacher in the public school system at a very special high school in western North Carolina, Tri-County Early College. Their whole school has switched to a project-based learning model for the high school years in conjunction with taking classes at the collocated community college.

You have to hear Ben’s story.

I am so exited about Ben’s experience and the commitment of Tri-County Early College to bring project-based learning to rural Appalachia. If you are a teacher or a parent, I want you to know that project-based learning is NOT a pipe-dream. It is a very real, very effective model for your school and for your kids.

If you live near Murphy, near Atlanta GA or Orlando FL, or in southern California, go to ttinvent.com/InventorCamp and signup for Inventor Camp this summer for a taste of project-based learning. It is a transformational experience where learning is both challenging AND fun.

PBL prepares kids for life in ways that worksheets and lined paper can never prepare them. Join the revolution.

Parents AND students both tell us, “We can’t believe how much learning happened in just 4 days!”

We want to help you and your kids create the future!

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Guest Bio

080 - Ben Owens 01Ben Owens is a physics and mathematics teacher at Tri-County Early College High School in Murphy, NC and a 2014 Hope Street Group National Teaching Fellow. He earned degrees in physics and mechanical engineering, respectively, from North Georgia University and the Georgia Institute of Technology and was able to work in the chemical industry for 20 years at various manufacturing and R&D locations across the US. This experience made it clear to him that we had to do a better job of giving students the skills they needed to collaborate and compete with anyone in today’s knowledge-based, global economy. Deciding to stop bellyaching and do something about it, he got his got his Masters of Arts in Teaching from Marshall University and then left the private sector in 2007 to teach in rural Appalachia.

Ben is TCEC’s lead teacher and coordinator of their Project Based Learning program. He is also a Center for Teaching Quality Virtual Community Organizer and a North Carolina New Schools’ Champion for Change, and a member of the National Science Teachers’ Association, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He invites others to join him to think outside the box (or at least question why the box may not have been big enough in the first place) so that we can disrupt the status quo in education, allowing every student to learn in an environment that looks less like a traditional school and more like that thing we call the real world.

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Additional Notes

Connect with Ben:

Email: ben.owens@cherokee.k12.nc.us
Website: ­https://sites.google.com/a/cherokee.k12.nc.us/early-college/faculty-staff/math-department–ben-owens
Twitter: @engineerteacher
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ben­owens­0a8a9875 ­
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/engineerteacher/ ­

Additional Links:

Two examples of what they are trying to do at Ben’s small, but highly innovative school:

080 - Ben Owens 04Ben’s passion: Tri-county Early College (check out the Trebuchet in the third video): http://www.tricountyearlycollege.org/

Some articles by Ben: http://ncnewschools.org/author/bowens/

Ben is also an avid cyclist and an author about bicycling: http://www.amazon.com/Ben-Owens/e/B008QN30CS

Ben speaks about Pockets of Excellence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QG0XSWoNJ-g

Article about Ben’s nomination as a Hope Street National Teaching Fellow: http://www.citizen-times.com/story/opinion/contributors/2014/06/01/veteran-engineer-sees-value-common-core-field-testing/9778445/

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Favorite Quotes

“The world doesn’t care what you know. What the world cares about is what you do with what you know.” –Tony Wagner

Something Ben Made Recently

A set of bookshelves.

Something Ben Learned Recently

How to link Google Classroom with Doctopus and Goobric so that I can give more timely, personalized feedback to my students.

Text Transcript Coming Soon!

“It’s not simply about filling in bubble sheets and passing tests… Are we preparing these student, these young people to go out and collaborate with and compete with anybody on the planet?” –Ben Owens


 “You name a metric. We’re rockin’ it, and I think it’s not because we spend all our time focusing on test prep. It’s because we put students in scenarios where we relate the curriculum to what they care about. Then they have choice and voice in how they respond to that and what projects they work on.” –Ben Owens


 “It’s not about the facilities or the resources. It’s about having a group of teachers who have passion for wanting to see the students succeed and doing whatever it takes to make than happen.” –Ben Owens

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