Project Based Learning – A Student’s Voice

Being a student at New Technology High School means choosing a path that many don’t understand. As PBL is a fairly new trend to hit education, there are so many people who haIMG_8662ve no idea what it really is or how it works. Because most people don’t understand it, they often ask a lot of questions. During my time at New Tech, I have had the opportunity to be a part of, and run, the Student Ambassador program. Student Ambassadors play a very key role at New Tech, as they give tours to every visitor the school has and often sit on panels so that groups that come to observe PBL, get a student’s perspective. As I have been a part of the Student Ambassador program for two years now, I have been a part of many panels and have noticed a trend in the questions that are asked. Here are some of the most common questions with my own, completely transparent, answers for them.

“How do you handle collaboration in a group?”

If I had been asked this question during the first couple weeks of my freshman year at New Tech, my answer would have been, “Not well.” Coming into New Tech with absolutely zero PBL experience, meant that I had very little practice with collaboration. I tend to be the “my way or the highway” type of person, and I looked at collaboration as giving others the chance to mess up my work. Through practice and failure, I began to understand how important collaboration is. Every group is not going to be perfect. There are always going to be people who work harder than others, but the most important thing for every student to remember is that everyone in the group has something to offer. Some may play a bigger role than others, but each individual has different gifts and are an important part of the team.

“What has been your favorite project?”

My favorite project I’ve ever done would be a project I did this year in my junior humanity class. My class is a mix of American History and English 11. The goal of the project was to learn about the different perspectives of immigrants so that we can have a better understanding of the people in the world, and then simplify that knowledge so we could share it with young children. We launched our project by speed dating a bunch of different books. We had a handout that instructed us to look at the cover, read the summary, and talk about why that book caught our attention. After picking three books we thought we would be interested in reading, out of about ten different books, the teachers formed teams and our teams were assigned the book we all had in common. For this project, we had smaller teams of two and our task was to read the book we were assigned, and then to write and illustrate a children’s book based off of the story we read. All of the books we read were about immigration to America. Mine was called The Prince of Los Cocuyos and was about a little boy’s immigration to America from Cuba. My partner and I used the theme and story from the book, but turned the characters into animals for our children’s book. During the course of the project, we had local artists come to class to teach us some basic skills and to assist us in the illustrating portion of our project. We also had local writers come in to read our stories and give us feedback. When our books were finished, we saved them and will be reading them to children at a local elementary school.

This project was engaging, and the way it was designed really taught a lot to students. Having community members come in, kept the project feeling authentic and was super helpful. The end goal was clear to the students but we had some freedom on how it would look. The creativity and diversity of the final products were amazing, but what was even cooler was watching my peers talk about all the things they learned about different immigrants, the United States’ Immigration Policy, and how they were given the chance to get a better understanding of the world and the people around them.

“What are the extra graduation requirements and how do they prepare you for life after high school?”

New Technology High School students are required to complete the following graduation requirements:

  • 20 hours of community service
  • 10 hours of school service
  • 60 hours of internship
  • 12 units at the Napa Valley College (must be transferable to UC/CSU)
  • Student Portfolio (Online Weebly Blog)

I truly believe that each of the requirements helps to fully set us up for success after we graduate. Community service is a huge part of New Tech. It is important for students to play active roles in our community, and they volunteer in all different fields. Personally, I’ve volunteered at a multitude of different events, at a local church teaching Sunday school, tutoring, and serving meals to the homeless. Outside of the Napa community, I also took a week-long trip to the Dominican Republic on a service trip. In every community service experience I’ve had, I have been able to see how big of an impact my individual work and voice can make. I’ve formed relationships with people in my community and have been able to see the positive benefits of my work. I believe that experience is incredibly powerful and important for students to have. The school service is helpful for growing positive school spirit and it requires students to make commitments and then follow through with them… a skill that is beneficial for us to learn early in life.

The 60 hours of internship are so important for students. We get a chance to test out a career we would possibly interested in, while also getting a glance into what working in that field will be like. We are required to be professional and it results in a huge amount of growth for many students.

The units at the local community college help students to get a taste of what college would be like, while also giving us the opportunity to take classes that New Tech might not offer. I was able to earn an assistant preschool teacher certificate from taking child development classes. These classes give students a chance to get ahead in a field they want to study in college or to dip their toe in a variety of different subjects so they can explore options for the future.

Student portfolios are an opportunity for students to create a positive online presence that they can use to apply to colleges or jobs. On the blogs, we showcase our work, learning, and growth. Some classes will require us to write on our blog as an assignment, but most students choose to write on their own time about different things going on in their lives. Every requirement is a chance for growth that will ultimately better prepare us for life after high school.

“How has New Tech and PBL prepared students for life?”

I could go on and on about how New Tech prepares students for life, but I’ll just say that I chose to go to school here entirely because I knew it would best prepare me for after high school. Now that I’ve been here for three years, and personally watched older friends graduate and be successful in the next stages of life, I know that I was right. New Tech’s environment is one that challenges students while letting them feel accepted and supported.

I truly believe that PBL plays a huge role in the culture at New Tech. Through Project Based Learning, students learn skills that are vital to being successful in life. We learn to take initiative for our learning, how to give and receive feedback, that failure is nothing more than a chance to get better, and so many other lessons. PBL teaches students in a way that is engaging, authentic, and long-lasting. At New Tech, our motto is that we use content as the doorway to learning skills, meaning that as we are making sure students are learning the information that they will need to know to move forward, they are learning it in a way that requires them to grow. For example, on the surface level, students may be doing a project that teaches them about World War I & II, but they could also be growing in their ability to manage their time and their critical thinking, both skills that will be beneficial to them during their lifetime. Over the past three years, I’ve watched myself grow and improve far beyond many of my peers in a traditional learning environment, and I fully attribute that to New Technology High School and Project Based Learning.

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