When Winton Woods City Schools made the district-wide transition from traditional teaching to project-based learning (PBL) in 2016, it was an adjustment for everyone. After seeing five years of success with the Academy of Global Studies (AGS) at the high school, the district felt confident to move forward with a new innovative style of teaching and learning. Now, six years later, it continues to see the fruits of its labor.
With the New Tech Network model, project-based learning is at the heart of the instructional approach. This learning methodology prepares students for the future through projects that are engaging, involving critical thinking skills by which students solve real-world issues. At some time in our educational career we have all wondered, “When will I ever use this?” In the world of PBL, this question is never raised. How does a district prepare students for a future they do not know yet? They provide them with the skills and resources they will need to thrive through discipline, time management, public speaking, and communication skills, better known as agency, while collaborating with others. These skills are introduced to students as early as first grade.
Eighth-grade students Julliauna Young and Mariah Ross see how collaborating with others during projects have grown their confidence to interact with people they normally would not. “It has taught me how to ask for help,” said Ross. “When I was unsure and had to do things on my own. I would not ask for help. Project-based learning taught me how to step out of my comfort zone and reach out when I am inexperienced.”
In a traditional classroom, students work independently. PBL requires collaboration and has specific roles for each team member. Young said these team projects helped her adapt to unfamiliar circumstances. “You are responsible for your part but also have to work with so many different people who may not do things like you. You are not in control of everything like you would be alone. You have to learn how to work well with others. It teaches you a lot.”
In 2021, Winton Woods City Schools opened two new campuses designed for its innovative and engaging teaching method. This means students can learn in spaces created for their collaborative and thought-provoking projects like the learning stairs and collaboration spaces instead of a traditional classroom. The district is proud to be at the forefront of the educational transformation that is happening across the country as one of only two completely comprehensive New Tech Network districts in the United States.
In 2020, COVID-19 brought a lot of uncertainty to what the school year would look like. Seniors Taidgh Miles and Nathan Tefera said they saw the impact PBL had on their lives with being able to adjust to uncomfortable circumstances. “PBL is not something I only use in the classroom but at home and in life. If I need to solve a problem, I break it down, see what aspects are causing issues and solve them. That is project-based learning.”
Through PBL, Miles and Tefera also learned that there is more to what meets the eye. Working with classmates from different cultures exposed them to new perspectives. “I have grown in my communication skills, self-confidence, and ability to speak to others who do not look like me,” said Miles. “I am glad for the collaborative effort.” Tefera said he would not have been able to learn and meet new people and experience all the different cultures to the extent he has without the projects. “It diminishes any stereotypes you would have of people because you work with people you normally would not and learn that everyone brings something unique, creative, and useful to the group.”
PHOTO CAPTION: Winton Woods High School students (shown l-r) Taidgh Miles and Nathan Tefera building a catapult for a project in their math and physics class. Photo by Drew Jackson.