Sioux Falls New Tech High School
When George Hawkins was waiting in the school office to interview for his job, a student walked up to him, shook his hand and asked what brought him to the school that day. The student had nothing to do with the interview process, just happened to be in the office.
Hawkins was so impressed by the student’s professional behavior, he jokes that he thought he had landed in the Twilight Zone. In fact, the old sci-fi show’s intro sums up the Sioux Falls school quite well:
You unlock this door with the key of imagination
Beyond it is another dimension
A dimension of sound
A dimension of sight
A dimension of mind
You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance
Of things and ideas
You’ve just crossed over into…
New Technology High.
New Tech follows a group project-based model, and over the course of their high school careers, Hawkins estimates students give hundreds of presentations of learning–to small groups, large groups, even community members. So it’s no surprise that student felt perfectly comfortable addressing a new adult in the building.
In Hawkins’ American Experience class, he and his co-teacher Jason Currie-Olson have set up a class “economy” to encourage students to use new technology. It can cost a group a lot of American Experience “dollars” to use PowerPoint, because students are so familiar with the program. Prezi would be cheaper, because students tend to be a little less familiar with it. And by introducing a brand-new technology to the class, a group can actually earn dollars for sharing the information.
The American Experience course incorporates U.S. history, American film history and American literature. Major class projects have included writing “Choose Your Own Adventure” novels based on westward expansion and developing a trip itinerary through the 1860s American South as a Civil War era travel agent. Students also research World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to debate whether war, with all of its destruction, can ever be beneficial.
It’s the story arcs that drew Hawkins to history. “I had some amazing teachers who spoke to the story, the idea that these are events that happened a long time ago, and they still impact you today,” he says. “I found it intriguing that there are these long story arcs that connect with one another. These are real stories, and there was a person behind them who you can point to and talk about. And their ideas then carry forward to today.”
Hawkins also teaches a government course in which students create candidates and develop campaign strategies. Another project puts students in the role of legislators and tasks them with writing a law. Local legislators have come into the classroom to help with this project by offering students insight into state government and suggestions for improving their laws.
This year, Hawkins was awarded the James Madison Fellowship, which recognizes promising and distinguished teachers, to strengthen their knowledge of the origins and development of American constitutional government. The fellowship is helping him pursue his master’s degree. He’s already taken three classes and can’t wait to take what he’s learning into his classroom this fall.