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Using Open-Walled/Project Based Learning to Increase Student Engagement for Off-Track Students-High School and Elementary School Partnership

Teacher: Bruce Pontbriand
School: TechBoston Academy and the Holmes Innovation School

The Challenge:
The 16 TechBoston students who participated in the Civics/Action/Housing course had academic and behavioral deficiencies that placed them in an off-track situation to graduate. The 20 Holmes students were in an inclusion setting and had early warning indictors of off-track performance. Both groups did not excel well in traditional academic settings and needed to activate competencies through a more holistic approach-open-walled/project based learning.

What did your team do about it?:
Both groups of students met for an hour each week at the Holmes Innovation School as an actual class. Students undertook the issue of affordable and sustainable Green housing in Dorchester, and followed the Boston 2030 plan as a guideline. Meeting each week to build relationships between the younger and older students was key to this process. We started the second week of September and had class every Wednesday until we stopped in March. The biggest roadblock was obtaining the necessary resources for building and designing. When we did receive funding from Project Lead the Way in October for purchasing building materials and hard-drives, the monies were held up in BPS until January. We needed the funder and TechBoston leadership to get the monies needed to make significant purchases. The advocacy of school leadership was key to overcoming this. Please-let school leaders have more autonomy when projects like this get outside support. District bureaucracy held up donated funds that could have positively impacted this project early on. Mr Keith Love, co-headmaster, was the advocate who worked the system to get the funds back to us.

Impact on Students:
Attendance and participation each Wednesday for our design and building sessions was 100%! The highest of the week. Student impact was documented in a shared presentation with representatives from the Teacher Collaborative/Shah Foundation where students share their career and educational hopes. Two of the TechBoston students who were off-track to not graduate, followed up with Suffolk Construction (a project supporter) and are now in CDL training program with the Teamsters. Pictures and images of full engagement were taken each week and were part of the Shah Presentation (presented by grade 12 and 4) in April.

Teacher Leadership and School Community:
We are all now risk takers with respect to innovation and have been energized to reach out to other stakeholders, supporters, funders to get support for innovation. BPS, unfortunately, does not provide clear pathways for teacher innovation, so we were empowered by each school to do this on our own, within the school structure, and pivoted often. Getting support to map out the project using project based learning milestones was key to this project, and provided a exemplar to show other teachers how to open walled learning in a realistic and practical way that is highly engaging.

What’s Next?
The next phase-students developed competency based skills using TinkerCad and Revit (architecture software that professionals use for building design) but were not recognized for these skills. We will layer a competency based certificate program for the high schools students and elementary students, working with AutoDesk in South Boston, to “badge” students with some sort of certification for achievement of these skills.

Helping Others:
Use outside funders and third party allies for extra resources. Use PBL Works for mapping open walled projects out, use their gold standards as a guide, and online assessment and inquiry resources. These were invaluable!