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story.lead_photo.caption Students pet baby chickens that were hatched from an incubator as a Trice Elementary class project displayed Thursday at the Project-Based Learning Expo at the Regional Arts Center in Texarkana, Texas. First-grade students from Trice learned how to artificially hatch chickens without a parent by researching what they needed, such as the correct temperature, how long it would take and turning the eggs as a mother hen would do. Photo by Hunt Mercier / Texarkana Gazette.

Students from all grades in the Texarkana, Ark., School District presented creative and insightful projects Thursday night at the downtown Texarkana Regional Arts Center during the district's Project-Based Learning Expo.

Matt Coleman, TASD director of school improvement, said the expo gave the students the opportunity to display what, and how they were learning with PBL.

"The goal is to showcase our students' work," he said. "We have been doing project-based learning as a district for five years now and we do really cool things and we want to give them the opportunity to showcase that work for parents and community and each other and have a chance to see each other's projects."

The PBL concept was introduced in 2013 when the district received a five-year $9.4 million magnet grant to implement science, technology, engineering and math programs at the elementary schools.

In 2017, the district received an additional five-year $14.8 million Magnet Schools Assistance Program grant from the Department of Education to continue the STEM thread to the junior high and high school levels.

At the expo, students displayed many projects on all four floors, including "If These Shoes Could Talk," "The Government and Me," "Blow Pop Shop," "A Salute to our Heroes" and "Weather or Not," among others.

Cole Jones, a sixth-grader at College Hill Middle School, created a project on Greek mythology featuring fictional character Cosmone.

"I made him up," he said. "I just took my name and added sort of a ring to it."

Cole said he liked creating the plot, which revolves around Hades sending monsters to ravish the Earth and Cosmone being sent to destroy and kill all the monsters. He added that he had worked on the project for two weeks, when it accidentally got deleted and that he's spent the last three days doing it again.

"It wasn't easy, but I got it done," he said.

The expo also featured performance art projects, including "Haunted History" and "We the People."

Ethan Miller, a student at North Heights Junior High, was dressed as Alexander Hamilton and spoke about his life.

"I am Alexander Hamilton, and I was born Jan. 11, 1755. I was a very important person because I founded the First National Bank of the United States of America and I also took part in writing the U.S. Constitution," Ethan said while in character. "This project was really high-level thinking because normally when we do research projects, we just get information, put it on paper and turn it in. In order to take it up a notch, we wrote an essay and did research. We made a posterboard and had to present it as the person, which I thought was really taking it up a notch."

During the presentation Deja Ray also spoke as African-American poet Phyllis Wheatley, who was kidnapped from West Africa when she was 7 years old and sold into slavery in America. The family she belonged to encouraged her education and the development of her poetic skills. She was the first published African-American female poet and died in 1784 in Boston.

Coleman said that the district will bus students back and forth to the different schools today so all the students get a chance to see the projects.

"We want to give them the chance to see what's happening on different campuses," he said. The district is a partner with PBL Works, formerly known as the Buck Institute for Education.

"We've partnered with them for five years now and are the only district partner in the state of Arkansas," he said. This summer, the district will host PBL Arkansas, where teachers all over the world will come and learn more about PBL. "It's one of their official training sites for the summer."

For more information on PBL, go to the district's website, www.tasd7.net.

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