Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Project-Based Learning at Winterboro High School

Last week, I spent half a day at Winterboro High School, located about half an hour from my house in rural Talladega County. The school has immersed itself in project-based learning with technology being a central part of the initiative.

Absent were the traditional desks. They had been replaced with tables, each supporting four desktop computers. Each class was rich enough with computers that a true 1-to-1 ratio was present. Because student work is saved on a central server rather the hard drive of each computer, logging in to the computer puts at each student's fingertips the material he or she needs, even though someone else will be using that computer the next period.

In each classroom I observed, the teacher had two computers. One was connected to a ceiling-mounted LCD projector and projected onto a SMART Board. The other was connected to a large-screen television mounted on the wall. Document cameras were in plentiful supply.

Through the approach being used at Winterboro, subjects are taught in tandem. Students work together on projects rather than learning facts in isolation. The statistics are showing discipline problems are down significantly. Attendance for teachers and students is up, as is the enthusiasm for learning.

One of the notable side-benefits of this approach is the development of interpersonal skills within the students. They are poised when greeting visitors and easily able to articulate the tasks at hand. Students are viewed more like workers in a real-world job with real-world expectations and are treated as such.

Principal Craig Bates combines this innovative approach to education with a simple, yet well-developed student behavior system using "trust cards."

Below is a short television segment spotlighting the school's project-based program.



Many places take small steps with technology, yet the steps are too small to move them from the ruts they are in. At this school, all of the equipment was installed in one summer and ready on the first day of school. The change in the curriculum was major and immediate. As we ponder what the future of education will look like, part of the answer may well be right here in this rural Alabama school.
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