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About Contextual Learning

For technical assistance with the Contextual Learning Portal, contact Jennifer Leonard at

Images from the collection of projects:
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What is Contextual Learning?

Contextual learning projects engage students in academic work applied to a context related to their lives, communities, workplaces or the wider world. Projects may range in length from a single class period to a semester-long exploration. Projects may take place in after-school or summer programs or in work-based learning programs as well as in a regular classroom.

For example, contextual learning projects might connect to a summer or school-year job or internship. Students working in summer internships in a musuem or zoo may create new exhibits or display boards for visitors, applying research, writing and illustration skills to the task. Students working in a day care center, day camp or activities program in a nursing home may create activities, including researching, writing and teaching the activity. Students working in a health club may read about exercise programs and learn about how new members are oriented to the health club activities. Students working in a bank may learn to create spreadsheets for analyzing financial information.

Contextual learning might connect classroom learning to community service opportunities. Students might research an issue in the community and make a presentation about their findings at a city or town meeting. Students might create informational materials about a topic of interest to the community. Students might apply their skills to provide a service in the community.

Contextual learning might also connect classroom learning to career interests. Students might use algebraic formulas or geometric grids in a computer programming project. Students might apply business math skills to an entrepreneurial project. Students might apply data analysis, graphing and statistical skills to a community project.

Projects are often student-driven, inspired by student suggestions or evolving from other activities that students wanted to dig more deeply in. One of the most valuable teaching skills is the ability to capture students' interests and passions and help them convert them into activities.

Projects may also be inspired by an opportunity in the community, classroom or workplace. Teachers may gather ideas for projects through teacher externship experiences or through business and community partnerships.

Why Standards-Based?

Projects highlighted in this website are standards-based, focusing on the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks as well as 21st Century Skills and Work-Based Learning Skills. Contextual Learning provides an opportunity for students to build academic skills and begin to apply these skills in the workplace, community and world outside the classroom. According to the New Commission on the American Workforce:

"Strong skills in English, mathematics, technology, and science, as well as literature, history, and the arts will be essential for many; beyond this, [students] will have to be comfortable with ideas and abstractions, good at both analysis and synthesis, creative and innovative, self-disciplined and well organized, able to learn very quickly and work well as a member of a team and have the flexibility to adapt quickly to frequent changes in the labor market as the shifts in the economy become ever faster and more dramatic.
- TOUGH CHOICES OR TOUGH TIMES: The New Commission on the American Workforce

The website provides a searchable list of frameworks and skills. This list, which brings together the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, 21st Century Skills, and Massachusetts Work-Based Learning Skills, can be used as a tool for brainstorming instructional ideas and designing projects as well as for presenting completed projects. Each contextual learning project should be designed to build skills and competencies, consistent with the learning goals of the class or program. Instructors can seek opportunities to design activities and incorporate appropriate tools (i.e, tools for research, analysis, synthesis of ideas, presentation and reflection) that link the project to learning goals. Instructors can seek opportunities to incorporate new types of technology, explore different styles of writing, apply mathematic formulas or models, and more.

About the Contextual Learning Portal

The intent of this website is to provide an opportunity and a space for school districts, community organizations, non-profit educational groups, and other youth serving agencies to share projects and lessons to support contextual teaching and learning for both teachers and learners.

This website is for:

  • Programs serving students in grades K-12
  • Programs with a specific academic focus on mathematics, English language arts and science, technology and engineering education
  • Programs focusing on out of school time
  • Programs attempting to crosswalk and bridge various educational and workforce development initiatives
  • Programs that want to share promising practices between schools and other organizations serving youth.

This project based learning website is a tool for programs serving struggling learners, students with disabilities, English language learners and other in and out of school youth as they strive to meet the high standards of secondary education, post-secondary education and high performance workplaces.

The intent of this website is to provide an opportunity and a space for school districts, community organizations, non-profit educational groups, and other youth serving agencies to share projects and lessons to support contextual teaching and learning for both teachers and learners.

What are the rules?

  • All content in courses provided for this website should be in the public domain and free from copywritten materials, these material can be reference but must meet copyright laws. ¬†All items submitted must be free for other districts to use.
  • While the primary focus is mathematics, English language arts and science education, programs are encouraged to incorporate other frameworks into the instructional modules.
  • Plans for the website include an interactive flavor, including features such as space for responses, recommendations, feedback and real-time content editing. The intent is for the project to adapt with changes in student need. Project staff may delete or edit specific modules not meeting the requirements of the site and moderate and comments on the site.
  • Modules should reference specifics strands and/or standards in the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks, the Massachusetts Work Based Learning Plan and/or the 21st Century skills framework.
  • The intent of this site is for educators and others to share materials. Contributors are asked to be creative, innovative, and student centered with content based on middle and high school level learning standards and beyond in mathematics, science and technology/engineering and English language arts.
  • Projects must be designed to meet the academic acceleration and support needs of struggling students and other learners. We also encourage innovative venues of instruction such as community service learning, work based learning and career and technical education.