Trust, respect, and responsibility are the hallmarks of our culture. At New Tech, learners and facilitators alike have exceptional ownership of the classroom experience and their school environment.
Project-based Learning is the core of our instructional approach. At New Tech, learning is contextual, creative, and shared. Learners collaborate on projects that require critical thinking and communication.
The smart use of technology supports our approach to instruction and culture. All classrooms have a one-to-one computing ratio allowing everyone to grow and flourish as a self-directed learner.
Niles New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy is a progressive school where learners use technology to complete group projects as they would in a professional work environment. Courses are taught in double classrooms by pairs of facilitators who integrate subject content to create projects that are both standards-based and relevant to learners' lives.
Niles Community Schools now offers learners the option to take part in a new and innovative program with project-based learning at its core. Learners in the New Tech academy still learn all of the same content standards required by all schools in the state of Michigan, but they learn them by working in collaborative groups, completing projects that are relevant to their lives.
At New Tech, new projects begin with an entry document that introduces the end product learners are expected to produce and asks the driving question(s) that the project should answer. Learners then read and discuss the entry document to generate a list of "Need-to-Knows" that will guide the learning required to complete the project.
Using the list of learners' Need-to-Knows as their guide, facilitators plan workshops, activities, discussions, guest panels, etc. that will provide learners with the content knowledge necessary to answer the driving question(s) and complete the project. As learners work and collaborate in groups, they generate more Need-to-Knows, which are added to the list. In this way, learners and facilitators share control of the course content until the project is complete.
All projects requiring learner collaboration begin with groups of learners drafting and signing contracts that outline each individual's responsibilities for the project. In these contracts, learners include steps to be taken if an individual does not complete their share of the work. Similar to a professional work environment, group members are able to hold each other accountable.
The job of the facilitators is to help groups write solid contracts and to support learners in following their contract language throughout the project. Because learners are required to not only understand but also agree with these contracts, they learn quickly to take responsibility for their work from the beginning.
In addition to course content, learners at New Tech are expected to master a set of four-to-five school-wide outcomes essential for their success in the 21st century. Their mastery of these skills is explicitly measured and reported right alongside their content grades.
By presenting grades like this, facilitators and parents are able to have open and honest conversations with learners about their personal strengths and weaknesses. This isn't possible in a traditional grading model. For example, the grade of a New Tech learner who turns in an excellent project two-weeks late is evaluated on more than the content and the lateness of the project. In fact, a close look at the gradebook would reveal that this learner earned an "A" in Content Literacy but a "D" in Collaboration and Work Ethic.
The fundamental importance of this change comes when the learner, his parents, and his facilitator talk about the learner's success at school. Their conversations go beyond "Why did you get a "C" on this project?" to "Why aren't you collaborating well and why is your work ethic so poor?" This creates an essential shift in communication that we feel is essential to helping our learners succeed in the twenty-first century.
Learners at Niles New Tech are expected to take bold academic and social risks while learning the same core content taught at any other school in the state of Michigan.
New Tech is designed to graduate learners who are confident, knowledgeable, and responsible collaborators who are ready for whatever path they choose. Whether they go to college, start their own business, or enter the workforce directly after high school, they will do so with a strong set of skills to help them along the way.
New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy is not a business school and it is not a technical school. Learners simply use technology to complete their projects while learning the skills they'll need to be self-starting adults in the twenty-first century.
Niles New Tech is a small school-within-a-school that will grow one class per year for the next four years until a full enrollment of 400-500 learners is reached. By growing slowly with time, and by keeping the academy enrollment low, we hope to maintain learner and facilitator enthusiasm through a sense of belonging.
In a small school setting, you're a part of something and everyone knows your name. Learners and facilitators work closely to form relationships not possible in a larger environment. More advising is possible, either formally or informally, leading to a clearer path to graduation and post-graduation plans. Learners feel safer and are absent less. Facilitators feel more connected to their learners and report higher job satisfaction.
Most importantly, small schools are better able to maintain their own unique culture, which is a cornerstone of the New Tech model. Without a strong culture of trust, respect, and responsibility, project-based learning falls flat as an instructional model. With a strong cultural backbone, learners are able to work harder, their aspirations soar, and more succeed.