I have the honor of joining a panel discussion and presenting at the CELL educational transformation conference in Indianapolis on November 16 and 17. I will be blogging about the unique and innovative concepts talked about at this conference. This posting reflects on my first formal experience with PBL two years ago as I encountered educators and students at the New Tech High Schools in Napa Valley and Sacramento, California. I have included links that showcase some outstanding videos on PBL and links to help you reflect. There is no way I can really relate the experience other than reiterating – it’s not the technology! I hope you enjoy my reflections and explore some of the links. Thanks for joining me once again and always feel free to join me at the 21centuryedtech Wiki. – Mike
This week I will be attending and speaking at the CELL (Center of Excellence in Leadership and Learning) Conference in Indianapolis, Indiana. The theme of the conference involves facilitating a collective initative by all educational stakeholders that is necessary as they face the challenge of finding tomorrow’s opportunities for today’s students. This conference will attract nearly one thousand diverse individuals over a two day period (Nov 16-17) in downtown Indianapolis. It is sponsored by CELL which is located at the University of Indianapolis. CELL’s efforts are rooted in the vision that all students, regardless of background, should graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary education, training, and success in the 21st-Century global economy. With primary funding from the Lilly Endowment Inc., CELL has leveraged resources to unite schools, communities and businesses to make substantial, sustainable, statewide education change to improve academic success for students.
My first encounter with CELL occured when I was investigating the New Tech Network , an organization which initally started in 1996 as the New Tech High School of Napa Valley, California. It later partnered with the Gates Foundation and set out on a mission to replicate the Napa pilot throughout the nation. There are now 41 schools located in nine states serving over 8500 students across the nation. New Tech states that its goal is to “help schools fundamentally rethink teaching and learning, empowering students to become the creators, leaders, and producers of tomorrow.” New Tech incoporates three key concepts. First they promote “a new instructional approach that engages learners”. New Tech incorporates project-based learning (PBL) as the center of the instructional approach. PBL is facilitated by technology and student inquiry to engage learners with issues and questions that are relevant. Teachers design rigorous projects tied to state standards and customized to local community and student interests. Students collaborate in teams to acquire and apply knowledge and skills to solve problems. Next, ” New Tech builds “a culture that empowers students and teachers”. It is trust, respect, and responsibility that become the center of the learning culture. Students are put in charge of their own learning, becoming self-directed learners, while teachers are given the administrative support and resources to assist students in this realization. Last, New Tech maintains that “integrated use of technology” is essential for 21st Century education. In a New Tech school the smart use of technology supports an innovative emphasis promoting unique instruction and a powerful classroom culture. Take a moment to view these videos found on the New Tech site involving small school projects and learning through projects. It will help you get a better understanding of project based learning at New Tech. These videos could be used as a great conversation starter with educators contemplating the use of project based learning in any school or district.
When making that first trip to New Tech almost two years ago, I was prepared to walk into a building where technology was at the center, driving a powerful and cutting edge learning atmosphere. It didn’t take long for me to realize that technology was not the center, the students really were. New Tech created a powerful learning culture with students owning and directing their education and the shared learning community. Problem solving, intrinsic motivation, collaboration, and engagement were all central themes. Technology was a somewhat invisible, yet powerful force, facilitating a synergistic environment. It was amazing to hear high school students talk with the same pride and enthusiasm for their school and learning as one might often hear in a first grade classroom. I left both Napa and Sacramento with a new belief in PBL and technology integration, along with a real appreciation for positive and powerful student centered learning communities. If you live near a New Tech school, it is worth taking the time to visit.
Since that visit, I have become more aware of the outstanding efforts that CELL is making. Their New Tech facilitation in Indiana is just one of many outstanding services provided by CELL. The CELL web site is filled with outstanding reflections and research, such as an interesting study on impact of PBL and student achievement. I am excited to share with you in future postings new ideas I aquire at CELL’s conference as I investigate sessions covering STEM education, project based learning and problem based learning, 20th Century vs. 21st Century skills, community partnerships, early college, and successful transformational techniques. I am sure that speakers such as Uri Treisman from the the University of Texas at Austin, Michael McDowell from the New Tech Network, Tom Carroll, president of the National Commision on Teaching and America’s Future, Ken Kay, president of the Partnership For Twenty-first Century Skills, and Brad Jupp from the US Department of Education will provide much to reflect on. I also have the honor of contributing to a panel discussion on project based learning in the middle school and presenting a session on resources for project based learning. If you happen to be at the conference, please stop by and say hello.
In conclusion, there should be more initative toward school cultures that promote student centered learning and project based learning . While New Tech has made some inroads at the high school level, initatives at all levels is still lacking and needs to be pursued. I invite you to join my 21centuryedtech Wiki and learn about resources and programs available to students and teachers to promote 21st Century learning. I am sure that CELL will reinforce the important message I heard at NMSA last week. It really isn’t the technology, it is the culture that puts students in the center of learning.-