A poster that accompanied a presentation by cheerleaders at Franklin High School, demonstrating a real-world application of physics principles. Franklin High School

Project-Based Real-World Learning in New Hampshire Schools

Earlier this year at Franklin High School, cheerleaders presented their physics project through cheerleading and stunting, demonstrating scientific principles in an engaging, hands-on manner. This approach exemplifies Franklin’s commitment to project-based, real-world learning, facilitated by the district’s “portrait of a graduate” initiative. This document outlines essential life skills—such as resourcefulness, wellness, and responsibility—that the community wants graduates to possess.

The “portrait of a graduate” concept, part of competency-based education, is gaining traction in New Hampshire, with at least eight districts developing their own versions. These portraits guide schools in equipping students with necessary life skills and evaluating their progress.

For Franklin, this approach has led to more creative and flexible teaching methods. Teachers have incorporated interdisciplinary learning, community field trips, and extended learning opportunities, such as internships. Examples include students attending city council meetings and creating instructional YouTube videos on mindfulness.

This shift has improved student engagement and attendance, with Franklin High seeing significant benefits. Nashua is developing a “portrait of a learner” to be used from preschool through high school, emphasizing critical thinking, grit, and relationship-building.

Funding for these initiatives often comes from grants, such as those from the Barr Foundation. While New Hampshire has a statewide portrait of a learner, local control remains paramount, with communities crafting their own tailored portraits to meet specific needs and priorities.