It’s a project-based world. Personalized project-based learning transforms students.

Yet, where do professionals learn how to do project-based learning effectively? At High Tech High Graduate School of Education (HTH GSE), professionals engage in project-based learning themselves and learn how to effectively implement personalized project-based learning with their students.

Driven by a focus on equity and deeper learning, HTH GSE considers project-based learning a backbone of the learning experience. Director of the HTH GSE M. Ed. in Educational Leadership program, Kelly Wilson, reflects, “At High Tech High [and GSE], we define equity in schools as a condition where everyone exercises voice and choice, engages in work that is accessible and challenging and connects with the world beyond school.”

Wilson continues, “Students have the opportunity to co-design projects alongside their teachers, using their own questions to guide sustained inquiry. This leads to authentic engagement with and access to the learning environment. Multiple rounds of critique and revision of student work throughout the project provide personalized support, enabling students to not only demonstrate transformation of knowledge and application of skills, but growth over time.”

Well-designed projects that are grounded in the principles described above have the power to transform student learning and students themselves. Here are five examples of student projects by HTH GSE current students and alumni that are transforming student learning:

1.  Bobby Shaddox: Pathway to the Plate

King Middle School ~ Portland, Maine

Project description: Students are on a quest to answer the essential questions: What are we eating? What pathways does our food take to get to our plate? They research and design pocket-sized food guides in order to educate consumers on the pros and cons of the various food chains in our modern food system. The research began during the expedition’s kick-off, in which students participated in a scavenger hunt at a local grocery store.

Student transformation: This learning transforms the way students think about food on a daily basis. It helps them redefine their roles as consumers and advocates for the improvement of our society’s food system.

2.  Kyle Linnik: Meals and Muppets

518ad076-a35e-4bb5-a1ce-fbd9ab9fc667_pasted20image200High Tech Middle Chula Vista ~ San Diego, CA

Project description: Through the Meals and Muppets project, our 7th graders set out to inspire and encourage their kindergarten buddies to establish and maintain healthy habits through balanced nutrition and physical activity. Using the magic of the Maker movement through puppet building and filmmaking, our students transformed their learning about food justice, urban farming, and making healthy food choices into a professionally produced movie, using muppets as a tool to engage our kindergarten students.

Student transformation: This work has been transformational for our students as they no longer were completing an assignment for a class, but rather taking on a meaningful challenge for an authentic audience.  This shift approach means their learning was no longer an expectation but a requirement for success, and in doing so has lasting effect.

3. Melissa Han: Bigfoot Cinderella

Baker Elementary School ~ San Diego, CA  ‎

Project description: During novel engineering, third graders created prototypes for “characters as clients” from the story Bigfoot Cinderrrrrella. Incorporating kind, helpful and specific feedback during projects enabled my students to engage in authentic conversations because they wanted their products to work.

Student transformation: This type of feedback created space for students to listen deeply to one another because the work mattered to them.

4.  Britt Shirk: A Tiny Home is Where the He[ART] Is

252f865c-747a-4c6c-ac94-285d1fcb8282_pasted20image200High Tech High Chula Vista ~ San Diego, CA

Project description: The Students of Team Sempiternal designed, drafted and built tiny houses for local artists in San Diego in order to provide affordable housing to keep art in San Diego. They also wrote and published a book entitled A Tiny Home is Where the He[ART] Is, which showcases the fourteen artists’ lives, work and stories leading up to the designs of their tiny homes.

Student transformation: The Tiny House Project gave students the opportunity to delve into the worlds of architecture, building and writing by collaborating with local professionals and creating a product with purpose and use outside of the classroom, as well as build a culture of trust, respect and peer empowerment within the team.

5. Nuvia Ruland: Beyond the Crossfire

High Tech High Chula Vista ~ San Diego, CA

Project description: Beyond the Crossfire is an investigative documentary led by 45 Chula Vista high school students and two teachers tackling the broader questions of violence in our country and its root causes. Beyond the Crossfire explores the mental health system, criminal justice system and mentorship programs as possible points of entry for systemic change to reduce violence in our communities.

Student transformation: For both students and teachers this was not just a project. Through their commitment to making real change, the students tackled social justice issues they were passionate about in and out of school.

In all of these examples, students are at the center.  We see the ripple effect of the fact that when professionals are transformed, so are their students.

This post is a part of a blog series in the upcoming “Getting Smart on Rethinking Professional Learning” Smart Bundle produced in partnership with High Tech High Graduate School of Higher Education (@hthgse). Join the conversation on Twitter using #EdLeaders or #RethinkPD and #SmartBundle.


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