George Lucas Educational Foundation

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High Tech High School

Grades 9-12 | North Bergen, NJ

Integrated Learning: One Project, Several Disciplines

For any project within a vocational major, High Tech High encourages teachers and students to include relevant content from other subject areas to enhance real-world connections.
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Integrated Learning: One Project, Several Disciplines (Transcript)

Allyson: The level of student engagement here is incredible, and it's just the feeling you get when you walk in the building.

We're a career and technical high school. The students come here because they have an interest in something and they're able to make connections with their technical path, and then they learn how to apply it through the math, the sciences and the English, so that you have this really well rounded, interested, high level student who's doing something that they love.

Gregory: I teach my architecture classes in a way where students get to apply the relationships to academics. They also get to understand a bit about art, a bit about design, a little bit about everything really.

One thing I'd like to do first is to sort of recap so that we can knock these site-specific aspects of the project.

For the past six years, we've been going to the Pocono Environmental Education Center. I team up with a history teacher and a science teacher for that large scale project.

Jamie: It is a national park in Poconos, Pennsylvania.

Gregory: I decided to have students demonstrate their understanding of architecture by designing a pavilion that would be site-specific to the Pocono Environment Education Center.

Cathy: My class is involved in the project, just by looking at national parks and conservation of different habitats, different species.

Jamie: I'm touching on the history of national parks and how they were founded, and how without Teddy Roosevelt, there would be no national parks.

What I want you to do, start researching different national parks and see if there are historical monuments within them. And I want you to talk about the different features and how does that change the features of the park?

Gregory: Prior to going on the trip, we'll hold a seminar with students to give them some connections to that trip, so that we can bring that experience back to the classroom.

Cathy: Having input from the different subjects areas provides something that maybe wasn't thought of originally.

Gregory: Today, Miss Velasquez and Miss Yuhas are also here to give their perspective on things.

Jamie: This and this remind me of Epcot Center, that big dome. This design and that shape.

Some students want to focus on structures and monuments that they've seen in the past. Some students just want feedback, so they have three different teachers that they can speak to.

Cathy: Some of the students were working on a lot of designs and incorporated a lot of biology concepts.

Enzo: So first I was working with a dandelion, so then I was like, can you kind of see it? It's like a sphere, but then I was like, oh, this looks better flipped over. So I wanted to make the water filter down with these pipes.

Gregory: Collaborative projects are really used to bring everything together to show relevancy and to break down the silos between the different courses of study.

Allyson: If I have a cohort of teachers working together, I give them common planning time, so that they can specifically plan based around the vocation. So the technical instructor will say, "This is what I'm doing. How can you contribute to this project?" We don't force it, we find ways to support it.

Jamie: Someone will say what they're doing in their class and it will spark a conversation and then someone will say, "Oh, I'm doing this in my class." And if something can tie in, let's do it.

Cathy: It's good for them to get a different perspective on topics from the different areas.

Jamie: Students come to the class with more knowledge. They're getting different mindsets, different viewpoints and different material.

Allyson: We're trying to show them how they need to be able to think critically, think creatively and independently, while working in the team.

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  • Producer: Kristin Atkins
  • Field Producer: Sarita Khurana
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Integrated Learning: One Project, Several Disciplines

At High Tech High School, students choose one of several vocational majors that are offered. These include architecture, engineering, culinary arts, graphic design, film/video, science research, theater, or dance. In addition to the vocational majors, students take all the regular academic courses required of high school students, including language arts, math, social studies, and science.

High Tech teachers find ways to collaborate and integrate vocational and academic content through projects that span multiple disciplines. Teachers have found that student interest in their vocations helps to drive their learning in many of the academic areas. When teachers collaborate and build these connections into the curriculum, students thrive, feel more engaged in the learning, and make real-world connections to what they are learning.

How It's Done

At High Tech High School, each student selects a vocational major. For example, within the Performing Arts academy, a student can major in drama, dance, or musical theater. In the Media Arts academy, a student can major in film/video, graphic design, photography, or studio art. Each of these majors drives students' learning throughout their four years at High Tech.

The school encourages vocational and academic teachers to collaborate and integrate as they can. Sometimes this is done across the grade level, so that the 11th grade math teacher is working with the 11th grade dance teacher. At other times, it's done with a whole cohort of teachers working within a grade level. Teachers meet during common planning times or before and after school. They also have a summer planning sessions that allow them to explore new ideas or build themes across classes and disciplines.

Much of the collaboration is focused around a particular theme, and culminates in a specific project that students create. Projects are used to make connections and show relevancy. Usually the vocational teacher will lead the project, and the academic teachers find ways to fit in and integrate their content. Projects can last anywhere from two weeks to a whole semester. The goal is collaborating and finding ways to work together, so that students can view and engage material from multiple perspectives.

Architecture Project

In the Architecture and Engineering academy, five teachers work in a cohort, including architecture, language arts, science, history, and math teachers.

As part of the architecture curriculum, High Tech's architecture teacher Greg Simon introduces students to the idea of biophilic design, in which bases the design ideas are based on aspects of the natural world.

For the past six years, tenth grade architecture students have been going on a field trip to the Pocono Environmental Education Center, located within a national park in Pennsylvania, just across the Delaware River from New Jersey. The purpose of the trip is for students to interact with nature and ultimately demonstrate their technical skill acquisition and their understanding of architecture by designing a pavilion that would be site specific to this space. During the site visit, students take photographs of the area, look at the changes in the topography, and figure out different variables to consider when designing their pavilions.

The students typically come back from the field trip with observations and ideas about something that struck them on the trip -- whether it's the pattern that they saw on a leaf, or the moss on the shady side of a tree. They begin a design process where that concept is picked apart and synthesized into something that will eventually be a site-specific structure.

Integration From Other Disciplines

The entire architecture project spans five weeks, and the other teachers in the cohort are invited to integrate as they see fit. For example, the science teacher might easily connect concepts of plant biology to what students are thinking about as they look for design elements in nature. The social studies teacher might enter the project through the history of national parks and Theodore Roosevelt's work in shaping them. These curriculum connections could last a week or two rather than being integrated for the entire five weeks of the project. The idea is finding those points of integration that make sense for the teachers and students, thereby creating a richer learning experience.

Inside the Classroom

In addition to the work that teachers do in their own classroom, the architecture, science, and social studies teachers joined the model-building phase of the architecture project to help and support students, ask questions, offer a new perspective on their design, and help them push through any obstacles. For example, the science teacher may ask about issues around sustainability, materials, or how the sun rotates around the site and what effect it will have on the pavilion. The social studies teacher may have a perspective on the types of monuments and buildings that have already been created, and on how memorials work in space.

Projects Show Relevancy

The final requirements for the architecture project are that students complete scale drawings of their proposal and a model built to scale. Students also give a final presentation of their work, where they not only discuss their proposals but also reflect on the design process, from field trip to executed design model. This often includes references to the other content areas that were integrated into the class -- whether it is the science or social studies perspective that has allowed them to complete the final stages of their project.


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