Real-World Building Construction Project

Posted on Categories Business, Community, Workforce Engagement, Project-based Learning

At a Glance

At State College Area High School, first year students enrolled in the masonry unit of the Building Construction Technology Program experience contextual learning in a real-life building scenario.


At State College Area High School, students participating in the first year masonry unit of the Building Construction Technology Program move quickly beyond textbook learning, and are challenged to build a four-sided foundation wall using two styles of construction. This unit, which lasts between two and four weeks, is part of a progressive program based on the actual process of how a home is built. After the students are introduced to surveying, building layout, and excavation they move into the concrete and masonry units of instruction which replicate the foundation phase of home construction. Students learn how to build concrete, block, and brick foundations by engaging in a hands-on, problem-based learning experience that push them beyond typical first-year expectations. By participating in a contextual experience, students are forced to think at a higher level while skills are reinforced through repetition and drill.   

This project requires students to work as a team while designing and building a wall. After basic skills and knowledge are learned, students participate in two brick laying competitions. The first event involves students laying five brick courses during a three-day period. The second event has the same completion expectation, but under a 60 minute time restraint to replicate real world time expectations. The students who have built the best product within the time requirement wins. Local building supply companies donate prizes which further motivates students to learn and execute their new knowledge. These real-life scenarios result in students building strong, authentic technical skills.

The program is directly supported by the National Association of Home Builders, Pennsylvania Builders Association and the local Builders Association of Central Pennsylvania. Through donations from partnering associations and local businesses, students earn tool and gift card prizes, and every senior student who completes the program leaves with a tool belt and full tools as well as the competition tools to start their career. Simple small prizes like paper certificates of achievement, awards, and recognition are also provided.

Origin / Implementation

In 2011, with 25 years of experience in construction, the program instructor began modifying existing curricula to blend classroom instruction with hands-on experience while ensuring students develop the ability to communicate that knowledge in a clear and precise manner. In addition to gaining technical skills, the instructor emphasizes the need for integrity, respect, quality teamwork, and safety while learning and on the job. Stating that he believes students learn best when challenged, the instructor’s goal was to create a project-based curriculum that expanded traditional first-year program activities while building student efficacy and applying real world professional expectations.

Results / Impact

Students perform well on the NOCTI. The instructor estimates that students acquire skills and learn the material about twice as fast as traditional instruction.

All students except one or two per year graduate with the Pennsylvania Builders Association Endorsement Certification and high performance on their NOCTI scores. The majority of all students go on to be placed within the industry or move to higher education within the field.


State College Area High School/School District

Dr. Sharon Perry, CTC Director

Chris Warren, Instructor

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