Designing curriculum is an expectation for teachers in the New Tech Network but it isn’t always a familiar approach in all schools. I remember my first year of teaching; I was hired two days before school started. When I asked what I was supposed to teach, I was handed a book.
The book guided me through the year and when I wanted to enhance my classroom, I was given a set of teacher materials. I obediently tore through the pages and selected the activities that made the most sense to me, modifying or creating extra activities as I had time and energy.
When I started at Sacramento New Technology High School, my team teacher and I started out excited, if perhaps a bit naive, about how smoothly a project would run and in our first few projects, we stumbled. We went through lengthy measures to find guest speakers who would only sometimes show up (including an Assistant Superintendent who stood us up!). We planned 6 weeks for one project, only to discover after the first week that our project was boring and tedious. Our initial entry documents were long, complicated, and not particularly exciting. Perhaps most frequently, we underestimated how long it would take for students to collaborate using more complex technology to create films or websites.
This is not an uncommon tale of the struggles teachers face when they enter into a PBL environment; however, we really enjoyed the process and grew tremendously from the experience.
Keeping the context of how difficult it is to design and implement a truly rigorous project that is engaging to students, we designed the Best in Network Award to recognize effective projects.
Last year the Best in Network Award went to Leah Penniman and Michelle Sweeny, teachers from Tech Valley High School in Albany, New York, for their project “Solar Collector” that required students to generate solar energy in the context of deforestation in Haiti. This was a tough act to follow considering all of the community partners, including a team of engineers that provided input into the design of the project.
This year the NTAC Advisory Committee received 197 nominations from 38 different schools for the upcoming Best in Network recognition.
Narrowing down such a list is daunting, especially knowing that each of the 78 nominated projects represents hours of labor and deep thinking on the part of teachers and students. The top projects will be recognized this summer at our Awards Luncheon at NTAC, based on the 6 As Rubric that assesses the following areas of a project:
1) Authenticity – Projects that simulate “real world” activities and presents problems that adults are likely to tackle.
2) Academic Rigor – Projects are derived from specific learning goals in content standards and demand knowledge of central concepts.
3) Applied Learning – New skills are applied towards solution development.
4) Active Exploration – Students are required to conduct their own research.
5) Adult Connections – Students have contact with adults outside the classroom who have expertise in an area relevant to the project.
6) Assessment Practices – Students help provide input to assessment criteria and have clear expectations early in the project directing them to demonstrate essential learning in the presentation of the project.
We look forward to recognizing the projects that are top in this area, and also acknowledging the efforts that all teachers go through as they develop meaningful work for and with their students.