In need of a starting point? Look at New Tech High School.

You may notice a theme from my recent and future posts: catching up and reconnecting.  I spent the summer being a husband, handyman, sojourner, and experiential learner, but happily, I’ve let my reading, thinking, and writing lapse.  So I have a lot to catch up on.  I don’t regret the lapse; rather, it’s been a welcome break.  Some I will pick back up faithfully, other things I will let slip into the ether of forgetfulness.

My school began the conversion from PC to Mac in March, and one of my “catch-ups” has been to empty out my old PC, sift through the stacks of docs, apps, emails, photos, and video, identifying chaff and wheat.  Here’s a piece of wheat for you:

I read an article for a cohort of which I was a member recently in which the author describes the very plain and simple premise behind the pedagogy of the New Technology High School in Napa, California.  The article, “Students thrive on Cooperation and Problem Solving,” published anonymously on Edutopia ( on October 18, 2006.

New Tech teachers build their instruction around eight Learning Outcomes — content standards, collaboration, critical thinking, oral communication, written communication, career preparation, citizenship and ethics, and technology literacy — which they embed in all projects, assessments, and grade reports. Instructors start each unit by throwing students into a real-world or realistic project that engages interest and generates a list of things they need to know. Projects are designed to tackle complex problems requiring critical thinking. The school’s strategy is simple:

  • To learn collaboration, work in teams.
  • To learn critical thinking, take on complex problems.
  • To learn oral communication, present.
  • To learn written communication, write.
  • To learn technology, use technology.
  • To develop citizenship, take on civic and global issues.
  • To learn about careers, do internships.
  • To learn content, research and do all of the above.

None of this is new, of course.  But I enjoy the simplicity of these eight guidelines and the reminder that content is not king, but must be integrated into the previous seven guidelines.

My only redaction in this list is #2.  At least at the younger levels, problems don’t need to be complex in order to recruit the skill of critical thinking. As an eighth grade teacher, since my focus on communicating in the target language, I aim to present very simple problems early on for two reasons.  First, if the problem is a simple one, they can put their sharpest thinking into their use of language.  Second, simple problems require the least input from me.  I can stay out of the doing process, and focus on facilitating conversation, providing sources of information, and assessing student work.

PBL is a forking path

So, if you’re like me, and you’re wondering how to frame your instruction for the beginning of the year, perhaps starting with these eight guidelines might help.  I’ve decided to give them a try.  I’m not sure what the result will look like.  But like any genuine learning journey, I can determine the point of origin, but where the destination lies will depend on the many points along the path.

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