Each year, the Best in Network Award enables New Tech Network to surface, recognize and learn from projects across the network that create rich learning experiences for students and that can challenge and inspire our network’s practice of project-based learning. Winning projects exemplify the goal of successfully combining active exploration, application, authenticity and academic rigor. To celebrate and highlight all the exceptional work of this year’s applicants, we will continue to add to this page and spotlight finalist projects in the coming months. 


 We are proud to announce New Tech Academy @ Wayne High School as the 2020 Secondary Best in Network recipient for their project Instruments of Hope and Attwood New Tech Magnet School as the 2020 Elementary Best in Network recipient for their project Tiny Home Builders: Animal Edition.

Congratulations to the winners! Learn more about these winning projects below. 

Elementary Winner

Attwood New Tech Magnet School

Project Name: Tiny Home Builders: Animal Edition

School: Attwood New Tech Magnet School

Facilitators: Caitlin Donnelly, Haleigh Lane, and Jonathan Rush

Course: Elementary (all subjects)

Driving Question: How can we design and build shelters that meet the needs of our homeless animals?

Partnering with Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter, the Capital Area Humane Society, WILX News 10, Home Depot, and other community members, fifth graders at Attwood New Tech Magnet School designed and built shelters for animals. The focus of the project was on mathematics and design for engineering. Groups conducted research to better understand the needs of their animal clients, designed shelters using graphing paper, and made a 3D model to test. After testing their models to see if they could withstand natural elements (i.e., wind), students made improvements. Finally, students met with expert builders who helped them build their actual shelters which were donated to Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter. 

Final Product: Animal shelters

Audience:  The Attwood community, animals (dogs, cats, chickens, or rabbits), and future builders of animal shelters

What made this project stand out: Reviewers loved the strong focus on community connection. They were also impressed with the depth of project outcomes – kids were considering construction as a career and the project served to dismantle gender stereotypes. The school’s STEAM club saw a large increase in female attendance after the project! Reviewers also liked that the project incorporated math, science, and English (writing) broken into segments. This allowed students to get excited to learn each type of content because they could see how it added value to their project product.

Austin Beachnau (Fifth Grade Student): The most important thing to me is the animals. I love animals, mainly cats.  The project impacted me because I am sad when I see a lot of bunnies and cats on the streets and that is really sad but I am really happy that we made the bunny house. We are building the houses for the animals to stay safe. It is important to our community, so the city of Lansing is not seeing animals on the streets without a home. I loved the bunny house because of the walls so there’s a place for them to stay. This lets bunnies play with each other and they can go in and be safe. What I learned from the project is math like the feet, length, and the height. What I also learned from the project is making sure that the animals are not all over the place, to keep caring for the animals, and to give them a home. We were able to give animals a place to stay for an owner to have to keep their pet safe and warm.

Angel Hobbs (Fifth Grade Student): I liked that we got to have fun and learn at the same time. It made me feel like I was doing something good for the world and not just being lazy, it made me feel great. I think that this project is important for our community because it is helping animals be safe and warm. It is also important because it helps other people and animals besides ourselves. It helps other people by keeping animals safe, not cold, and alive. That way people do not have to be sad because their pets died. I learned that it is important to listen, respect others, the space around you, and be safe. I also learned that in order to get anything done you have to listen to other people’s ideas, not just your own, and that you have to cooperate with everyone. This project is impactful to me because it is good for everyone to work together. I loved doing the project and I really had fun doing it!

Alex Beachnau (Fifth Grade Student): This project makes me feel sad and happy. It makes me happy because we are building the houses and we will know if the animals are safe or not. It also makes me feel sad because just thinking about animals without a house makes me feel sad. The project is important to me because as a student I have spent a lot of time working on our bunny house and really wanted to make sure this project gets done right. The reason why I like the bunny house is because it has all the materials for the bunnies. I learned that the bunnies are going to be warm and safe. I also learned that it had to be four inches and for all of the other parts needed to measure right.  

Caliyah Ross (Fifth Grade Student): I really enjoy this project because it helps more animals survive, not be cold, and have a happier life! What I enjoy about this project is that in some schools some kids want to be builders but, in their school, they do not have any building class or building teaching. So, this project really helps me if I need to build a doghouse in the future for my dog or just need to build something! This project makes me feel sad and happy at the same time. So, I feel happy about helping the environment and the animals. But I feel sad about how some animals do not have homes or an owner to take good care of them that is why I wanted to do this project. I think this project is great for the community because some people like me really like animals and want to help them as much as we can. So, this will help dogs, cats, and even more animals! So when I see animals saved, it makes me relieved and happy for that animal! I’ve also learned A LOT from this project. I learned how to build, how to graph, how to plan, how to measure right and how to care for animals more! So, therefore I want to thank my teacher so much for picking this project and teaching us how to build and how to save the environment!


Caitlin Donnelly (Co-Facilitator and Project Design): This project was one of the hardest feats to accomplish, but one of the best decisions we’ve made as educators. We were learning along with our students and I’ve never seen them so eager to learn. The biggest surprise to me was just how much the community came to work with us and how much the students were genuinely enjoying what we were doing. Hearing the students talk about how much they were looking forward to building made me super excited to teach them everything leading up to the build. When we conceptualized this project, we knew it was going to be a challenge, but I never could have foreseen how impactful this was going to become for the students, the community, and for us. The shelter we are donating to was so hands-on with the process and we even had an architecture firm come in to discuss designs with students and a construction company come in to help build. There were quite a few students who were considering the construction field because of this project. We started with a lot of standards and ended up with this project that was so much more. Seeing how curriculum standards and “real world” application matched up to create something amazing made me so proud as an educator. That’s what made me believe in this project so much and want to show off all the hard work our students put in. 

Haleigh Lane (Co-Facilitator and Project Design): This project opened our eyes in many ways that we will never forget and not just as educators but as students and community members. As educators, we got to watch our students grow in ways that we normally wouldn’t have. They were finally excited about what they were learning. Every day they would ask when we were going to work on the project because they were so eager to keep moving forward. As students, they got to be more hands-on with their learning and with professionals they may have never crossed paths with if it wasn’t for this project. The tools they used to collaborate and communicate were huge for them. They got to talk to other professionals as equals and to them being an equal at this age makes a great impact. The building skills they learned may be something they use again in the future but, regardless, at least they can say they know how to use basic tools. As community members, they not only got a nice change of pace from their “normal” but they got to teach our future what their profession does, has to offer, and lend a helping hand. At the beginning of this project we never would have imagined the amount of community involvement we would end up having. Our local shelter coming into our school and the local news to start off the project was beyond what we imagined. Then we ended up getting even more involvement and they wanted to keep coming back and being involved. Just talking about the involvement with our community makes me so proud. It also showed our students that others care about their learning and want to help them in any way they can. This project has really made a huge impact on everyone that was involved and has seen it come to life! 

Jonathan Rush (Co-Facilitator): The opportunity for my students to collaborate with professionals in multiple fields is the part of this project I felt is invaluable. However, the part of this project I liked the most was seeing my students realize that they are seen and heard. This project is important for our community because it is essential that we build a relationship between our students and their community. This project has provided a window for students to view aspects of their community that aren’t commonplace. As well, members of our community were given the opportunity to work hands-on with the future of our community. I learned that education is the profession I should stick with because building design and construction are not my forte. I am glad I had a class to do all the work. Seeing my students band together at times of frustration and setbacks had the greatest impact on me. It was a reminder to me that one day these students will be the adults and while I’m glad it is not today, it gives me hope for the future if they can continue to work together during hard times.

Amber Moreno (Focus Teacher/Coach): In the support role that I serve, I was able to follow the project from an outside lens. From the very start, I observed so much excitement and satisfaction to be working toward an authentic need that our community had. Each time I checked in with the 5th-grade classrooms, there was always an intense focus on the task at hand. I was there to offer my support, but they always had things under control! It was great! I loved how this project gave our students opportunities that most of them have never been given before. Our students were able to see how their learning could be applied in the real world, how it was possible for them to work together to achieve an end goal, how each of them, especially our female students, were capable of performing design, engineering, and construction skills, how our community partners cared about them and wanted to help them succeed, how it was possible for them to do something that mattered to their community, and so much more! Throughout the project, I noticed that it allowed us to experience something we’ve never really seen in our building before. We all became quite the team of kids and adults, each serving a different role, but all working together for one important cause. What a great learning experience we will always remember!

Secondary Winner

New Tech Academy @ Wayne High School

Project Name: Instruments of Hope

School: New Tech Academy @ Wayne High School

Facilitators: Jeffrey Roberts and Josh Smith

Course: Cross-Curricular: Holocaust Education; Mass Media; Journalism; Psychology

Driving question:  How is music used to save or persecute?

Project Scenario:  Students were asked to connect the playing of musical instruments and the survival or death of Jewish musicians during the Nazis’ persecutions (Holocaust era) with the impact of music on an individual’s life (including ourselves). Partnering with The Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, the Fort Wayne Philharmonic, and “Violins of Hope” author, Dr. James Grymes, students researched the lives of Jews during the Nazi reign and created and displayed art pieces expressing the impact of music on the lives of those that were impacted by the Holocaust. The art pieces were created using community donated musical instruments. Students also created a documentary showcasing the project. Students developed an understanding of how music saved many targeted groups from certain death and persecution because of their musical abilities. They also connected the idea of “music saves” with how music impacts our current world.

Final Products: Instruments of Hope Gala, Instruments of Hope or Despair Exhibit/Gallery Walk that displayed , student-created documentary that illustrated the project

Audience: Members of the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, University of St. Francis: Staff, Art Students & Music Students, Members of Mynett Music, FtW Philharmonic & Sweetwater, and New Tech Academy Community: Staff, Students, Family, Friends

What made this project stand out: Reviewers loved how the art pieces were incorporated, the partnership of the author of the original text and the examination of how the idea that music saves or persecutes parallels to today’s music. They were impressed with the depth of integration, the rigor, and the community partnerships. 

Jeff Roberts (lead facilitator) – “This project impacted so many people. There were so many staff members, students and community groups involved. It showed that people do care and are willing to support students in their efforts to show empathy and grow from past mistakes. Students sometimes struggle with the connection between past events. This project allowed students to become empathetic towards those individuals impacted by the Holocaust and then connect personally with the nonfictional stories in the book, “Violins of Hope”. The ability of four different elective curriculum areas to come together was a proud moment. To see that students could see the relevance between the Holocaust, current world and more significantly their own lives was powerful. The authenticity of the project and the number of organizations involved (Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne Philharmonic, Sweetwater, University of Saint Francis Art Department, etc.) allowed students to bring this empathetic approach to more than just our school, this project impacted an entire community. The various emotions that poured out of our students and the community members in attendance, shows that this was more than just a project. It was a symbol of hope.”

Josh Smith (co-facilitator) – “This project was so powerful for me as a facilitator because of the amount of passion and drive that I saw go into it. The amount of community involvement from the Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne Philharmonic, University of St. Francis, Sweetwater, Mynett Music and many others will forever be solidified with our school in the development of the project. The highlight of the project for me was the Gala we did last May, when the students were able to see the whole project come together. They were able to show off their work in an amazing and powerful night that Jeff and I worked so hard to develop. From struggling to find a place to hold the event, to renting a moving truck to move two pianos to, and from the event. The collaboration between 4 different elective courses also will leave a profound impact on the school, and provide an example for future projects at New Tech Academy. This project proved that students were able to find true understanding and connection to the Holocaust, in an empathetic way that authentically connected them to their community. These truly were instruments of hope.”

Sophia Shaw (sophomore student / freshmen at the time of project) – “The project brought up a lot of emotion to not only myself, but to others who’ve seen what we’ve made and accomplished. I’m super proud of my peers, facilitators, and myself for creating such a meaningful and impactful project that will continue to spark empathy in multiple communities.”

Kevin Chan (sophomore student / freshmen at the time of project) – “The magnitude of this project hit me at the Yom Hashoah Commemoration Event and the Instruments of Hope Gala. I never knew the power of my own artistic designs. A woman, named Ann, came up to me crying because of the connection she had with my violin. The project allowed me to be creative and do my own thing. The project also allowed me to view the different types of emotions that people were feeling at the time of the Holocaust and relate it to me personally.”

Caleighsta Edmonds (junior student / sophomore at the time of project) – “For me, this was a project that I could not complete if I didn’t invoke any passion towards it or attempt to relate to it in any way. In most classes I can coast through topics by not having to dig up too much personal relevance, but when tossed into something as intricate and sentimental as the concept of music, presenting anything to my peers and teachers without passion or true effort would not do justice. For once I couldn’t fast pass through need to knows or team contracts, but actually take time and thought into what music I connected with, and how it helped me overcome countless personal trials and tribulations. This project to me was a shining display of what being enrolled in a New Tech Network school looks like, and made me all the more proud of it.”

Luke Vance (senior student / junior at the time of project) – “As the student who made the video documentary, I found the Instruments of Hope project really about showcasing the modern response my peers had towards the Holocaust and the instruments that saved so many lives during one of the darkest time in Jewish history. I think this project was so impactful because of its sheer magnitude. Never in my three years at the time did we ever have a project that spread across so many classes and so many platforms. There were written pieces, videos, artistic pieces, and we all had to collaborate with another to put together the bigger picture. We really relied on each other during this project, and it’s amazing how we all came together to create such a tremendous final product and further our understanding of an event that took place a little less than a century ago. “

Link YouTube video here:

Video from Round 1
Round 2 Video 
Exhibit/Gallery Walk Video

Link Project Toolkit/Design Document here: 
Project Tool Kit Document

Phase #1 Critical Friends & 6As Description Document here: 
Phase 1 Critical Friends and 6As Document

Link to STUDENT Music Instrument Art & Music Stands:

Examples of completed student instruments
Examples of completed music stands

Link to Proclamation from the Mayor of Ft. Wayne:
Instruments of Hope Day Mayoral Proclamation

Link to Instruments of Hope teaser and full Documentary (STUDENT created): 

Link to Spoken Word poetry videos for Gala
Spoken Word Poetry 

Rubrics & Spreadsheets: 
Instruments of Hope Gala 

TriFold Boards 
Art Pieces (Instrument and Stand)
Jigsaw Presentation Guide – Includes Student Presentations
Scaffolding Schedule – Both Gala & Exhibit

Instruments of Hope & Despair Gallery Walk Rubric
Student Work Spreadsheet
Planning and Brainstorming Guide

Anything else you would like us to see? Link it here: 

Fort Wayne Community Schools Press Release (Instruments of Hope Gala)
Violins of Hope Fort Wayne Media Page
Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne Bulletin




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