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Project-based learning is hard. Often times, we fall in love with the research and stories of PBL but find it incredibly hard to effectively implement in our student’s life. This is especially true if our students are interested in something less traditionally academic like horses.

But from our experience working with high school students at Sora Schools, anything’s possible! So, let’s jump into scaffolding learning and thinking of project ideas for horse-loving students.

Quick Background

PBL is effective because it follows the “Principle of Directness” which states, in the paraphrased words of author Scott Young, always try to learn in a situation that mirrors the ultimate use case of the skill. Or, in more human words, do the thing to learn the thing. This is because research shows humans are quite bad at transferring what we learn. That means, if you want to learn a language, speak the language. Or, if you want to spend your life taking care of horses, take care of horses.

The first step to making your student care about “schoolwork” is showing why it’s relevant to their lives. You don’t like wasting your time and neither does your student. That means, your number one priority is tying every lesson back into how it could help them later. With that knowledge, we’re ready to start!

Identify future careers

If your student is interested in horses, there are two popular choices: Equine Veterinarian and Ride Instructor. Although, of course, there are other careers that involve frequent interaction with horses. If your student is focused on a different career, you can use the upcoming strategies to create your own project ideas! However, these two careers should give a good look into the field.

Ride Instructor

The job of a Ride Instructor has the potential to be extremely entrepreneurial. If your student has a love of horses, you can use that to foster a love of business! All your student needs to start a successful business is a few horses, riding skills, and an internet connection. Sounds easy, right? Well, make them find out.

Project Ideas related to Ride Instructors:

  1. Create a riding business. For this exercise, your student should try to figure out the exact cost and revenue projections for starting a company which sells horse riding lessons. When doing exercises like this, encourage your student to be as detailed as possible. They should even consider obscure factors like landscaping maintenance and business insurance. If they can’t find relevant information, such as the price for a horse, they should ask a similar business. Everything from financial projections in Excel to neighborhood household income is helpful. Try to get them to think of this as a serious pitch to an investor. Who knows, maybe this could set them on the path to a successful, fulfilling business—or, kick this unrealistic fantasy for good. It’s better they realize the feasibility of their dream now rather than later.
  2. Adopt a horse. As most adults will yell at any kid unlucky enough to be within earshot, learning responsibility is the greatest lesson in life. Coincidentally, your child’s lack of responsibility is likely why this subtitle made you internally scream for help. Of course owning a horse would be a wonderful lesson in responsibility, but you don’t have to immediately jump in the deep end. There are many smaller, and probably better, steps to take before horse ownership. First, a horse “adoption” program. I can’t find much information about these programs online, but my parents did this for me when I was somewhere around 10 years old. Basically, you “adopt” a horse from a local barn which entails caring for the horse one afternoon per week. The experience of getting stepped on, shoveling poop, and trying to feed the horse medicine was enough to turn me off of the future career path. If you decide to try this, I recommend having your student create a Powerpoint explaining how much it would “cost” to adopt this horse. Have them include travel time to the barn, maintenance, time spent, food costs, etc. Once they create their plan, have them track their real-world costs against their projections. This would be a great exercise in accounting and an insight into the life of a rancher.
  3. Intern. This is the extreme version of adopting a horse. If your student thinks they’d love being a ride instructor, have them call ride instructors and ask for work opportunities. I’m sure they can think of something. This is the only way your student will know if they really enjoy this career field. Best case scenario, they ignite or lose their passion which gives them a clear next-step. Worst-case scenario, it’s “fine” and they make minimum wage for a summer. At Sora, we deeply believe in letting students experience the job they think they’ll love at the earliest stage as possible. A quick internship in high school could save a decade of feeling trapped in a job.

Equine Veterinarian

The projects related to this job can be much more school-y. (Is that a word? Whatever, I’m keeping it.) To be a great vet, your student would need to be an expert in biology. So, let’s use that as a starting point.

Project Ideas and Points of Inquiry for Equine Veterinarian

  1. Could you successfully replace a horse’s kidney with a human kidney? I know, this is technically inquiry-based learning instead of PBL. However, I often find inquiry-based to be more engaging for the sciences.
  2. Could you predict a horse’s life expectancy by their athletic ability? This is possible for humans, but does the correlation extend to horses? This is an intro to data science and programming for your student since most horse-racing data is available online.
  3. Humans with “blade limbs” are some of the fastest in the world, could you design a prosthetic to make horses faster? This is a biomedical engineering question. To answer this question, your student should look into biomechanics, materials science, and product design. Bonus points if they model their product with an industry tool like solidworks!

Conclusion

When approaching academics using project-based learning, it’s best to give your student choice. As we know from self-determination theory, intrinsic motivation doesn’t occur unless choice is present. So, send this list to your student, support whichever choice they make, and try to fan the fire of their new interest!

If you’re interested in learning more about our online, project-based high school, please check our website and reach out to our team to learn more about how Sora can work for your student!


Garrett

As a child in a military family, Garrett was exposed to many different cities and new forms of education. Every time he moved, he tracked the variations in his education which ultimately sparked a passion for improving learning experiences. As the co-founder of Sora Schools, Garrett works with a community of teenage homeschool students to create a PBL curriculum based around each of their interests.