PL_State Landscape_NC Warren HS Case Study

The Role of Project-Based Learning at Warren New Tech High School

For as long as he can remember, James Woodall has found the traditional classroom experience frustrating.

A teacher gives a lecture, but he can’t concentrate. He fidgets, he can’t keep his mind on the topic, and he’s distracted by a number of things around the room.  

James was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but even with the accommodations and protections he is entitled to under the law, the traditional classroom structure still impedes his educational success.

The Vision: Students will be active owners and creators of their learning rather than passive recipients of it. They will get more individual attention, more opportunities to collaborate with peers, and more opportunities to practice skills essential to their future success, such as written and oral communication,
collaboration, citizenship and work ethic, technology literacy, and critical thinking.

The Strategy: Using project based learning (PBL), students will gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to an authentic, engaging, and complex question, problem, or challenge.

Recently, his history teacher, Michael Williams, assigned James and his classmates a project that connects events in the Civil War with key events in North Carolina’s local history. James was able to take a leadership role in this collaborative group project, conduct interviews with local community members, and present his findings to those community members, his classmates, and teachers. James and his classmates thrive in this environment where learning is relevant and engaging. One hundred percent of students in the class—including others with ADHD—will go on to some form of postsecondary education this year. James plans to enter a two-year program at Vance Granville Community College and later transfer to a four-year school to study broadcast communication and journalism.

PBL should not be seen as an intervention of choice for some students, but as a best practice for all students. Even so, to be sure this approach meets the aspiration of inclusivity, educators and schools must approach it with intentionality.

Learn more about how project-based learning is helping students like James:

Download PDF of “The Role of Project-Based Learning at Warren New Tech High School”