For those that don’t know, New Technology High School, located in Napa, a 75 minute drive north of San Francisco, was established 23 years ago. The ‘technology’ is no more or no less visible than many other schools. The focus is definitely on learning by bringing even more rigour to its highly credible project-based approach underpinned by their driving principles of learning.
Aaron Eisberg, the Learning Co-ordinator of the Centre For Excellence at New Technology High School, hosted my visit. Aaron kept ensuring his input and resources were directed to me and my context. He was acutely aware that I was the learner and continually asked questions such as, “What do need to know?” and, “Are you getting what you want out of this?” I was very much at the centre of the experience, much the same as the students at ‘New Tech High’.
Part of my visit was spent touring the campus led by a Year 12 student. As I walked the corridors and entered classrooms, it was obvious that group work is important. However, there is choice with that. There is no set figure of having to work in groups of say 4. One can work independently on a project but still be able to collaborate with experts external to the school as well as seek input and critique from other students within the same class.
A stand out take away for me was how much precision there is to connect senior students to the post school world whilst they are still at school. With that comes school based requirements additional to the required by the state for graduation. These include:
To support students complete these requirements, there are three counsellors on staff for just over 400 students from years 9-12. Along with wellbeing counsellors there is what is known as an Internships Counsellor. The role of this person is to work closely with each student to align their industry interest with post school possibilities. When speaking with two students about this requirement, they were very animated and stated it was a highlight of their time at New Tech. As aside, it is interesting to note, that students complete the 60 hours within the last 2 years and usually in their own time, outside of school hours.
The precision around ‘post school’ also sees students access ‘pre-college courses’ which, if need be, can be transferable to local California universities. Many of the students go above and beyond school requirements to complete engaging College courses within areas of interest. I was informed that one student had completed courses which saw them attain all first year university requirements and some of their second year university requirements. Due to local district agreements these courses are free for school students. So, not only are the university course costs reduced, so too is the length of stay at university. This option may not be for everyone, but it is great for each student to know that this is an option.
At the end of Year 12, a capstone event is organised by the College. This event provides each student with an opportunity to present an online folio of work to “showcase business entrepreneurship and market readiness skills” and, the public is invited – now there’s an authentic audience! I wonder if there have any been any job offers have come out of the evening? Hhhhmmmm.
The other stand out for me hearing about the professional learning communities where teachers work together in groups to respond to driving questions. These include:
- What does effective assessment look like within the context of a project? Why, what, and how do we assess students?
- How can scaffolding be used within a project to deepen rigour and applied learning?
- How do we use culminating events to bring more authenticity and adult connections to our projects?
The intent is to ensure that project based learning continually evolves, improves and responds to the needs of student learning.
For those interested, you can read PBL vs Project Based Learning. It will offer insights for you and your colleagues.
For many of you reading this, it will be no surprise to know New Tech High are doing great things, both with project based learning and working with students for post school life. The challenge is, how can that be scaled in a way that transforms learning across the United States and across the world? Well, the New Tech Network is one response to that.
Thanks for taking the time to read,