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TTE students make recommendations to expand the “play” in playground at Coyote Ridge Park

As part of their Project Based Learning unit “Putting the Pieces Together,” TTE third-grade students became playground engineers tasked with modifying a play space to meet the needs of children with autism. Students presented their findings and suggestions to the Castle Pines North Metropolitan District and the Castle Pines Parks Authority in October.|

By Lynne Marsala Basche; photo courtesy of Amy Ball

More than 80 Timber Trail Elementary (TTE) third-grade students participated in a Project Based Learning (PBL) unit called “Putting the Pieces Together.” PBL teaches students to acquire knowledge and skills by investigating and creating solutions to real-world challenges. As part of the lesson, students became playground engineers tasked with modifying a play space to meet the needs of children with autism.

Before the students could address the needs of autistic children, they first learned about the disorder, including what it is and how the needs of people with autism differ. As part of their investigation, students conducted research while completing an obstacle course that challenged their senses as they progressed through the structure.

With data in hand, the students traveled to Coyote Ridge Park and recorded their observations about the current play space with the goal of making the park more appealing and inclusive for children with autism. As a result, the “engineers” investigated different playground equipment, justified the benefits of the new pieces and provided reasons why Coyote Ridge Park should consider installing the equipment.

After the teams gave their findings to classmates, each of the four classes voted on one piece of equipment to present to the Castle Pines North Metropolitan District and the Parks Authority on October 2.

“We were thrilled that the enterprising third-graders from Timber Trail brought this project forth and invited us to participate,” said Jim Nikkel, district manager for the Castle Pines North Metropolitan District, which owns and maintains Coyote Ridge Park. “To see this level of community engagement and investment at such a young age is exceptional.”

The students expect to hear back by the end of October regarding the decision about their suggestions.

TTE principal Michele Radke said, “I am so proud of the students and the work and research they put into this project. It is obvious from their presentation that they have developed an understanding and empathy for children with autism. One of the things we strive for with our PBL units is an authentic learning opportunity in which the students can apply what they have learned. Presenting to the Castle Pines North Metro District and Parks Authority and having them choose playground equipment to add to Coyote Ridge Park is a perfect example of a PBL authentic learning experience.”

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