Winton Woods City Schools District
Winton Woods City Schools is in its second year of a three-year educational transformation that is bringing New Tech Network (NTN) and project-based learning to every school in the district. It is only the second school district in the nation to implement this education model.
“We have three buildings in the district now that I would call ‘full New Tech,’ meaning we have project-based learning in every class all the time,” said Dr. Terri Holden, executive director of teaching and learning for Winton Woods City Schools. “Those students and teachers have really experienced pretty transformational change this year. It’s going well. The work is hard. It’s hard for the leaders. It’s hard for the teachers. And certainly the students have experienced a change, but it’s a good mid-year checkpoint.”
Principal Eric Martin said Winton Woods High School is in its sixth year of NTN and project-based learning at the Academy of Global Studies and in its second year for New Tech Academy. For Winton Woods Middle School Principal Doug Sanker and Winton Woods Intermediate School Principal Jeremy Day, this educational pathway is brand new for their students and teachers.
Sanker said a recent student survey provided a lot of good feedback about hands-on project-based learning units, which he called the “sweet spot” for his seventh and eighth graders. “When our science teachers have kids creating things or working with maps or working with different concepts within earth science, this creates probably the most memorable units for our students,” he said.
Day said his teachers are seeing more student engagement than they’ve seen in the past and less behavioral referrals. He feels the two go hand in hand. “If class isn’t so exciting, kids will get bored. We’re making sure they’re actively engaged.” His staff, he added, is putting in the hard work that comes with the transition and is doing a good job with collaboration. “If something is hard, it’s usually worth doing.”
Though Martin has the most experience with NTN and project-based learning, one thing he’s found is “you never get to where you can sit back and say, ‘I’m finished and I know what I’m doing.’ It’s one of those things where you’re consistently learning. We even changed the title of teachers to facilitators because everybody in the process is learning. So it’s an ongoing, ever extending process.”
“I think the kids really appreciate that the adults are learning with them, and they’re not just giving them all the information all the time,” said Day. “I think they feel they’ve got more ownership in their learning. This has been a fantastic experience already and we’re just in the beginning of it.”
“This has been a paradigm shift for our students,” said Sanker. “Our teachers are constantly utilizing the concept of agency, which means students are responsible for their own learning. So our conversations have changed from, ‘I’m your teacher, and I want you to do this,’ to ‘You’re the learner, and this is a direction you could go.’”
Holden said another part of the shift in learning comes with the idea of failure. “Far too often in education we’ve taught our children that to fail is bad,” she said. “But if we try, and fail, and learn, that’s the best scenario. That’s how we move forward.
“When we allow kids to fail, when we allow teachers to fail, when I allow principals to fail—and we learn and we grow—we develop the characteristic of persistence. I know when our kids go off to college they’re going to encounter situations that are difficult, where they’re going to fail. But since we’ve taught them how to fail correctly, to fail forward, and go through it and be persistent, then that’s a big win all the way around.”
Day said he’s happy with the point his students and teacher have reached now that the school year is half-way over. “We’re constantly improving, and I see it every day,” he said. “I see it with kids first and foremost, but then with the teachers as well. The building feels different. The culture is different—academically, behaviorally, it’s a different place. And that’s a good thing.”
“We have a New Tech coach that works with us, and she’s given us feedback that we’re in a good spot right now,” said Sanker. “We’re about where we should be, but I feel there’s so much more we can do. I want to keep pushing my staff and the students to really achieve that model with a high degree of integrity.”
Martin said he knows there’s always room to grow. “I wouldn’t say that I’m right where I want to be. I always want more. I believe our students are able to do things that we’ve never even imagined them doing before, and I believe the same of the adults that work with our young people.”
All of the principals say they appreciate that they have a whole district commitment and are excited to see New Tech Network, and project-based learning, implemented in the elementary and primary schools, grades PreK through 4, during the 2017-2018 school year. “I’m excited to see what happens in the future,” said Day, “and I appreciate that we’re all learning this together.” – See more at: http://www.wintonwoods.org/districtNewsArticle.aspx?artID=12843#sthash.5MxWNR6J.dpuf