A researcher from the University of Washington in Seattle visited Anson New Technology High School on Thursday to study the school’s practice of project-based learning.
Studying effective project-based learning in at-risk communities, Tricia Maas came across examples of New Tech’s successes. Once at the school, Maas observed classes and spoke with teachers about the school’s unique approach to education.
During one conversation, Maas asked guidance counselor Jodi Davis and teachers Alyson Wint and Bebette DeVera for their thoughts on the school’s philosophy of achieving mastery through projects. One of the school’s graduates, Shaniqua Bennett, also sat in on the discussion. “The more I’m in the system, the more I’m thinking it’s the only way to teach,” Wint said.
Maas asked the teachers about the average class sizes, student performance, what the challenges of the approach are, and many other questions.
Some of the challenges of the approach that teachers identified included tutoring after school, as many students take public transportation and leave immediately after school finishes, and how the students respond to the teachers’ approach. “Think of it as a J curve,” Wint said. “The students get here and have more freedom without teachers hovering over them, so their grades plummet. They soon learn that the teachers will help them, they just need to want it and ask them. Letting the students flounder is so hard, so seeing that for their first year or two is very disconcerting. But you have to trust the system. The students do come back and rise to the occasion.”
In addition to the teachers’ support and constant tutoring, the school encourages group leaders to help teach the subject matter, as the students sometimes prefer to talk to peers, DeVera explained.
The group also explained to Maas the benefits of avoiding the use of textbooks to put an emphasis on project-based learning. “We infuse so much creativity that they like the projects and they want to do them,” DeVera explained. “They learn on their own when they go home and are so interested they watch YouTube videos and do their own research. Students come up to me and say, ‘I stayed up til 2 a.m.,’ or ‘I stayed up to 4 a.m. looking this up.’”
Maas’ visit is not the first time New Tech has been noted for its success. Last summer, Anson New Tech principal Chris Stinson won the Susan Schilling Legacy Award at the New Tech Network Annual Conference (NTAC) in New Orleans. The award is given to education entrepreneurs for leadership and contributions to the innovation and sustainability of the Network, according to the New Tech system.
The school was also featured in an MSNBC piece, “A Stronger America: Making the Grade” in 2011 for succeeding in a high poverty, high drop-out area.