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PAA Students Bring Project Based Learning to Elementary Students


“I believe students learn on a deeper level when we are willing to leave the safety of our everyday classrooms,” says Portland Adventist Academy teacher Linda Johnson who recently took her Anatomy & Physiology students to McMinnville Adventist Christian School (MACS) for a day of Project Based Learning (PBL).

Mrs. Johnson backs that belief up with action. She has been faithfully leading her A&P students in Project Based Learning outside the classroom for more than a decade.

Earlier this school year, her students viewed a brain surgery at St. Vincent Medical Center with Dr. Deshmukh. They also recently visited a cadaver lab where they were able to see the intricate and incredible details of the human anatomy. Each of these field trips offer hands on knowledge and inspire possible future careers in medicine, biology, teaching and more.


Taking PBL even further is Mission Focused Learning (MFL). This is why Mrs. Johnson’s  students spent a day teaching MACS third through fifth graders about the skeletal, muscular, cardiovascular, and nervous systems. Besides presenting information, they paired up as lab partners for bone tissue experiments and animal heart and brain dissections.

The collaborative event was inspired last summer when Oregon Conference teachers learned how to implement PBL and MFL during a Loma Linda University EXSEED conference. Johnson met MACS teacher Verlaine Linrud while on a cadaver lab tour and the two bonded over the excitement of teaching anatomy. Johnson recognized what little resources small schools have for PBL and it inspired ideas of how PAA could help.*

The benefits were mutual. PAA students got to teach younger students which reinforced their learning while MACS students got hands-on discovery experiences and mentorship.


“I was nervous about the teaching part,” says PAA junior Adoniah Smith. “But I ended up really loving to see our little buddies get so excited about the experiments.”

“I enjoyed the dissections very much,” says MACS student Ireland Duke. “I’m not sure if I liked the brain or the heart better because I enjoyed them both!”

Either hearts or brains, the day brought students valuable skills and experiences while smiles and laughter filled the room and important memories were formed.

“Thinking outside the box can be a challenge,” says Johnson who understands the problems that can arise for Adventist schools working towards PBL and MFL goals. “There are field trip transportation issues, missed class time, budget concerns, as well as the additional time it takes to coordinate with school schedules. PBL also requires more materials. You have to have specimens to dissect and safety equipment for lab work. These are costly, especially for the smaller schools.”

Despite challenges, Oregon Conference teachers like Johnson and Linrud know that PBL is worth the energy and are committed to implementing PBL. Collaboration is one way to help each other reach these goals.


“The goal is to inspire, to connect, to make a difference in the lives of others, and, ultimately, to be the hands and feet of Christ, our Master Teacher,” says Johnson, who seems to have met this goal well.

“Students came away that day feeling rewarded,” she says. “They helped to light the fires of curiosity in the minds of their little buddies.”

“It gave me such a good feeling to work with them,” said Smith. “I saw what a blessing it was to share this experience and I hope we can do it again!”

*Special thanks to the Oregon Conference Department of Education who helped purchase the specimens for dissection and Mrs. Johnson and her husband Kevin for personally purchasing the elementary sized safety glasses, gloves, and masks. These are tremendous gifts to be recognized. Thank you!

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