Taylor High School sophomore Caleb Maple claims he can sell a shoe to anyone — a skill he picked up in class, he said.
“That’s what we have to do here at school,” he said. “We have to sell our projects to get a good grade.”
Taylor is wrapping up year two of its four-year conversion to a New Tech high school, and Maple, for one, is on board with its project-based teaching methods.
Students in the New Tech high school are not just assessed on their content knowledge in a subject. They also are graded on their professionalism, critical thinking skills, ability to collaborate, oral and written presentation skills and technology proficiency.
At any given time, teachers or even visitors can walk into a classroom and ask students what they’re working on and why, and the kids are expected to provide an explanation.
Maple said he’s already found a real-world use for this skill. He works part-time as a salesman at Shoe Carnival, and he routinely beats his co-workers in sales.
Anyone can tell a customer a shoe is good. The key, he said, is being able to explain why they should buy it.
“I have to be able to talk to anyone and everyone,” he said. “This school has helped me.”
But not everyone feels the same way.
Maple said there is a segment of the student population calling for Taylor to return to traditional teaching methods, as evidenced by a flier hanging in the global studies class.
Students there were asked to create a propaganda campaign for an issue they felt strongly about.
One student’s flier read, “Why suffer.” It showed a picture of Taylor’s New Tech crossed out.
“Some students are quiet, and they learn better on their own,” Maple said. “This is hard for them. We’re looking at that issue.”
Others just don’t like change, he said. And it’s harder for them because right now, New Tech has only reached the freshman and sophomore classes, he said. The other half of the school will be brought in over the next two years.
But seeing the older kids in traditional classes frustrates New Tech opponents, he said.
Sophomore Karla Windburn admitted that some aspects of New Tech are tough, especially the presentations.
“I’m pretty shy,” she said.
For her, though, the benefits outweigh the downfalls. Especially in math class.
“Math is definitely easier with projects,” she said.
Right now her class is re-creating a scene from the television show, “C.S.I.” Her group has to build a bank vault to learn about geometry.
Jessica Breedlove, Taylor math teacher, said she is confident the new approach will bump test scores and bring more students up to speed in math.
Breedlove recently had her class play cornhole to learn about the quadratic formula, something she said should help them remember it on tests.
“They’re not just memorizing formulas,” she said. “They’ve created memories.”
Maple said the transition to New Tech hasn’t always been smooth. Even the teachers hit bumps in the road.
“You have to figure out how to make it work in your classroom,” he said.
His Spanish class fell behind in the first semester because students spent too much time working on projects about Spanish-speaking countries, he said.
Maple said that’s one class that requires a lot of book learning. By the end of the semester, he and his classmates realized they hadn’t learned enough about grammar and how to structure sentences in Spanish, Maple said.
He said the teacher made adaptations for the second semester, and now the class does mini projects but spends more time in the textbook.
“We’re kind of the guinea pigs,” he said, with a laugh.
Maple said most students are excited about the new approach, though.
He said if you walk through any classroom, you’ll see students who are more engaged in learning.
Thursday, a chemistry class was creating a Chex Mix and figuring out the calories in each ingredient by burning it in a chamber. A biology class was making a board game for middle school students to teach them the parts of a cell.
That’s something that Taylor was lacking before, said Principal Eric Hartman.
“We were missing the relevancy,” he said. “We were missing the real-world applications.”
• Lindsey Ziliak, Tribune education reporter, may be reached at 765-454-8585 or email@example.com