Inside a classroom of the Lobo School of Innovation, one can find middle school students tackling all of the important subjects- from math to history to language arts, like all other middle schools in the Evergreen School District. However, its instruction and classroom activity may appear a bit different than that of the traditional classroom, as it attempts to mirror a workplace environment. In science class, students collaborate to develop solutions for California’s drought crisis or design earthquake-safe buildings. In History class, students participate in a mock trial to explore the ways in which our constitutional rights are applied in past and modern society.Located on the campus of Quimby Oak Middle School, Lobo School of Innovation (LSI) was “founded” in 2015 and will open its doors to its first batch of students this Fall. The LSI is a member of the New Tech Network of schools. The New Tech Network works with elementary, middle, and high schools to design a comprehensive curriculum and learning environment that incorporates project-based learning and technology. The goal of the network is to promote professional development and empower students to approach curriculum material in real life contexts.The New Tech Network previously created programs within the district at Bulldog Tech and Katherine Smith school. The success of these schools spearheaded the effort to create the Lobo School of Innovation. Phil Bond, the school’s principal, and Ryan Hansen-Vera, the site director, worked together along with the founding team of teachers for the Lobo School of Innovation. The teachers attended a conference in Chicago that focused on project-based learning education and observed classroom instruction in other schools within the New Tech Network. They meet regularly with one another to expand upon the training, and will continue to do so over the course of the summer.The teachers at Lobo School of Innovation and various other schools within the New Tech Network take on the challenge of tailoring project-based learning to meet the core curriculum requirements. Although the students are learning the same material as those in traditional classrooms of their respective grade levels, the approach behind project-based learning differs. Each class has roughly 60 students and two teachers at all time. Students have access to laptops and iPads to utilize during their explorations and project time. The Lobo School of Innovation uses block scheduling to ensure that students have sufficient time to collaborate and work through complex problems. World Arts teacher Miles Garner acknowledges the value of team-based problem solving in classroom settings: “The adult work life is based around group projects. Some projects are easier than others, while other projects are avoided. Students at LSI will learn how to work well in groups and be able to shine during any adversity they come across. I do see a growing need and a growing transition in shifting to this type of learning.”In some cases, these projects are designed to incorporate multiple subjects in a long-term exploration. For example, the current team of teachers at Lobo School of Innovation created a Crime Scene Investigation project. Students applied science skills and concepts as they took on the roles of forensic scientists analyzing evidence for a trial. They practiced language arts skills to write an argument for the case, and concepts learned in History class to determine which Constitutional rights were of interest in the case.Language Arts teacher Erin Scullion expressed the importance of such engaging classroom activities by noting, “as students become empowered during authentic, exciting projects, they are more willing to work hard to succeed for internal reasons rather than simply “getting an A” This teaching style prepares students to be critical, reflective learners who share in the knowledge of their teachers and don’t see us as the ones to “gift” wisdom to them. I see the need to help students become more competent, confident citizens as the world changes.”Teachers, staff, and community members work together to accomplish this goal by developing creative lesson plans and an engaging classroom environment. Evergreen School District has seen success in New Tech Network schools within its community and will continue to create opportunities for students to engage in this new and exciting way of learning. Any students are eligible to apply to the Lobo School of Innovation, and its current administrators are currently reaching out to potential feeder schools within the district. With technology advancing at a rapid pace and taking on a new role in the workplace, New Tech Networks schools like the Lobo School of Innovation encourage students to become critical thinkers and active learners who are prepared to adapt to industries that are constantly changing. Such an education takes learning beyond testing and grades by empowering students to apply their knowledge in order to solve complex problems.
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