Full-Speed Reform in Rural Georgia (Transcript)
Man 1: Oh, that's good.
Voice Over: These students are investigating a murder mystery. It's one of several projects developed by educators from Whitfield County in northwest Georgia, as they transition their schools to project based learning.
The process began two years before when Whitfield teachers and administrators visited High Tech High. The San Diego charter school specializes in project based learning and hosts workshops to showcase its methods.
Rob Riordan: -- What you know. So projects are key to our effort to serve a diversity of students within each classroom.
Voice Over: Inspired by their visit, Whitfield educators launched their own project based learning initiative just a few months later, beginning with the sixth and ninth grades.
Andrea Bradley: We were so excited, because it was like a tool that we could give to teachers. It was like the vision that we saw for our school and for our students.
Eric White: What we did, we looked at their core design principles, a common intellectual mission, personalization, adult world connections, and we said, "Are those good for our kids?" Well, yeah. Yeah, they are. They are good for our kids. That's not a High Tech High thing. That's an every kid thing.
We'll look at some of the--
Voice Over: A group of Whitfield teachers worked together to design projects integrating a variety of subjects, including history, math and forensic science.
Teacher 1: What we're studying now in genetics is DNA and fingerprinting.
Student 1: Some of these fingerprints are really--
Teacher 2: Now looking at these, you should be able to tell me about what degree they are. Remember--
Eric White: I remember thinking back when I used to teach in a more traditional format, it seemed to be me versus the kids. I gave you work. You don't like it. You're mad at me. You know, you give it back. I don't like it. I'm mad at you. It was very adversarial. It was amazing. Once we started giving kids work that was different, that allowed them to put their passion into it, to collaborate with others. All of a sudden, the conversation between teachers and students changed.
Voice Over: There are three major factors that help these teachers rise to the challenge of transitioning to project based learning.
One is collaborative planning time.
Michelle Underwood: That's just the beauty of it, because we've got a few minutes in the morning to plan, but once a month, we all get together and plan and work together as colleagues. And you don't have to design it all. Everybody takes their own part and contributes what their strength is toward this big puzzle of a project.
Voice Over: A second critical factor is freedom to experiment and even to fail.
Tim Fleming: I think a lotta teachers have the feeling that they are allowed to fail, and I think that's mainly because they're really responsible, not necessarily to the administration, but more to each other, and I think that's a really powerful thing.
Teacher 2: For example, I design a game--
Albert Coley: If I fail to completely organize a project from the beginning, it's gonna be a flop and I know that now. I know that I can't wake up and wing it from day to day. I can't do that.
Voice Over: The third factor is remembering that not every lesson has to be a project.
Teacher 3: What if I have--
Andrea Bradley: We at North Whitfield had to stop. You know, halfway through the year, you can get carried away with how a project works and really, it's about, are the kids learning? So I think it's supporting them and saying, "Whatever is best for your students, keep searching, keep seeking, keep designing."
Voice Over: Continued mentoring and free resources from High Tech High also help keep them on track.
Teacher 3: -- to have your teachers present as well.
Teacher 4: Yes. I think that would be a good idea.
We could do a focused, everyone together, and then break out into workshop?
Teacher 3: That'd be really fun--
Eric White: It's a little nerve wracking at first, but adult like conversation we're having with kids now, that's worth it all.
Liliann: Oh wow.
It's very, very different.
It used to just be a lot of tests, a lot of, "I'm gonna teach you this," and then just spit it back out on a test paper afterwards. But now it's more of, "I'm gonna teacher you this and you have to produce something that's actually meaningful from it." And it actually, it's more engaging and it makes you actually want to learn.
Albert Coley: And what's that for?
Logan: This is our way of learning. We're learning how to build, putting math and science and everything into our outdoor classroom to learn.
I like it.
Voice Over: With the growing support of teachers and students, Whitfield County plans to continue implementing project based learning across the district.
Tim Fleming: I watch students up and moving around. They're building something. They're talking to the students. They're presenting their work. They have something great they're fixing to home to show their parents. I mean, those are just awesome things, to watch the kids be engaged. It's just a fantastic thing as a principal.