Our Turn: Rhinelander NCSS compared to a traditional school
I am a junior at Northwoods Community Secondary School (NCSS). I have noticed while talking to people in our community that many people have no idea how our school works, or how it compares to a traditional educational setting. So that is the goal of this article. By the time you reach the end of this article, I hope that you not only understand project-based learning, but are able to explain it to others.
Now, what is project-based learning, and how does it work? Project-based learning is a preferred instructional model that better mirrors the reality of 21st century careers than the traditional class to class style of schooling. In project-based learning schools, students learn to take into account deadlines, while still being given time to create quality projects.
NCSS students start the year by being given all of the state-required learning targets (scope and sequence); all of the things that all high school students have to learn in order to graduate. Throughout the year, students create different projects that incorporate these learning targets. Each project cumulates in a product that shows what the student learned and proves that they gained an understanding of the learning targets in their project. This project can be anything, from a PowerPoint presentation to a mural, to an event or performance such as dinner-theater, to performing a service for the community. The possibilities are endless.
Senior year of high school has a different structure. The first half of the year is spent creating and completing projects, like the first three years of high school. However, during the second half of the year, seniors must create and complete a senior project. The requirements of this project are that the student devote and record at least 100 hours to it, that the student produce a research paper related to one aspect of their project, and that they find a mentor who will guide them through the learning process. At the end of their senior year, in order to graduate, all seniors must give a 10 to 25 minute presentation about their project.
Contrary to popular opinion, NCSS is not the school for the dumb or lazy kids. In fact, it can be much more difficult than a traditional school. Our projects are graded with either a “proficient,” “advanced” or “mastery.” Projects that do not meet proficiency standards are not awarded credit until they are brought up to proficient levels. Masterys are the best grade, and the hardest to achieve. It takes a large amount of hard work and devotion to earn a mastery, and once you have one, you can be very proud of it.
The independence of project-based learning also requires that the successful student be very driven and hard-working. However, not all of our students are students that work way faster than their peers. Several students may require more time to create a great product. These students are no less than any of their peers, they just work slower than others. This school is a great fit for a variety of students.
That’s not to say that traditional schools are without benefits. Having several classes a day can be a lifesaver for those students who need a change of scenery once in a while. Most NCSS students spend their whole day in the same classroom. And while NCSS offers independence, some students need more teacher pacing of content in order to meet graduation requirements. Traditional schools will likely be a better service for those students.
For me and many like me, NCSS is an amazing change from the traditional educational setting. It gives us an opportunity to learn at our own pace, and still graduate with flying colors. We are able to structure our own learning, unrestricted by the constraints of a traditional classroom or schedule. It may not be the best fit for some students, but is, without a doubt, an invaluable opportunity for many students that are held back in a traditional setting.
If you want to know more or visit NCSS, you can contact our principal, Wil Losch, at 715-365-9500 ext. 8105 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.