"I think that one of the biggest things that I've taken away from PBL, and from New Tech in general, has been how to communicate with people not just my age, but of all ages." — Aracelli
One of the many exciting and rewarding moments at PBL World 2022 was the Student Panel keynote on day two. While more than 1,000 adults gathered to discuss Project Based Learning and its effect on students, getting to hear about the actual impact PBL has on students from the students themselves was particularly powerful.
A panel of five New Technology High School students and alumni, plus teacher moderator Andrew Biggs, gathered for a Q&A session on day two. The panel talked to the PBL World audience about the different ways in which PBL has had a positive effect on their education.
The students (Aracelli, Case, Fatima, Janelle, and Juan) shared their experiences with projects and reflected on how PBL helped prepare them for the future. This compelling panel showed educators the tangible impact PBL has on learners.
But don't just take our word for it — watch the video of the keynote address (and/or read the transcript below) to see how PBL works for students of all backgrounds.
View the New Technology High School Student Panel's PBL World 2022 Keynote Address
Read the transcript of the New Technology High School Student Panel's PBL World 2022 Keynote Address
ANDREW BIGGS, PANEL MODERATOR: Just wanted to let you know that the group of students that we have today, we pretty specially picked because they represent a pretty diverse set of types of students and types of learners. And I know sometimes when we hear from students at things like this, sometimes we feel like students are cherry-picked or whatever, and don't necessarily give us a sense of what it means to actually be a real student in a real classroom. And so we were really thoughtful about making sure that we picked a variety of kinds of students, so you can really hear from a variety of learners and kind of get a sense of what students in your own classrooms might think or say.
And so what I'll do is I'll go ahead and introduce them individually, and what I'll introduce them with a little bit of the blurb that they asked me to say about them, and then we'll go ahead and invite them on. And then you can go crazy and clap for them and do the whole thing, right, and show the love for them.
So the first student that I will introduce is Janelle, and Janelle is a recent graduate from New Tech High, and she is attending Sacramento State in the fall as a criminal justice major, minoring in forensics and Spanish. She is planning on a career as a lawyer. So I'll go ahead and invite Janelle.
And next up is Juan, and Juan is also a recent graduate from New Tech High, and he is a future barber and is deeply committed to family.
So next up is Fatima. Fatima is an incoming senior. She is a skilled self-advocate with a quiet confidence and charisma that I'm sure you'll see from her as she is up here.
Next up we have Aracelli, and she is an incoming senior, and incoming ASB president. She has a deep commitment to social equity, and actually is the only one on this stage that's talked in front of 800 people before, so that's pretty exciting.
And our last student, Case, is also an incoming senior, and is the incoming ASB vice president, and his interests lie in environmental justice in action.
And so I guess what we'll do is just go ahead and jump right into the questions, and start giving you a chance to hear what the students have to say.
That's our school. You saw a little bit of that, as well as a URL in case you're interested in checking out what we do at our space. I'll give you a chance to just take pictures or whatever, do that whole thing.
That's me, you don't need to follow me on Twitter, but if you want to, there it is, it's fine.
There's a picture of our school — looks surprisingly similar in some ways to this one, but let's go ahead and jump in with the first question.
This one's a little bit of a multi-parter, of course, but how has your relationship with learning changed while you've been a student at New Tech, or maybe even a student doing PBL more generally?
And then can you share a story of how a project has changed the way that you understand yourself, your identity, and/or the world around you? And we'll go ahead and take maybe two or three responses for this one.
JANELLE: So I've been doing Project Based Learning for a while now. I went to a Project Based Learning middle school, so I've been doing this for a while.
I have realized that it has helped me grow so much. When I first went into high school, I was a very shy, very quiet girl, who didn't really like to present in front of people, could not even do a presentation without shaking or constantly saying "um" or "or," for example, but it has helped me a lot to be able to get out of my bubble, to talk be able to understand my peers and have a strong connection, not just with them, but as well as the teachers, and just overall I was able to be more involved with my community.
I was able to do a lot. There have been many projects that we have done over the years. For example, our culture project that we had back in freshman year. We basically had to learn about our culture.
For example, one of the main criterias that we had was finding a food from your culture and seeing how you can go ahead and make it for other people to enjoy. For example, I chose flan, a well-known dish from Mexico. And one thing that they told us was to have fun with it, but also really just make sure that you're making it so people are learning, and I was able to show in front of the whole school and their parents how to make a flan. Not just a flan, but also a flan for diabetics, and it was pretty fun.
Freshman year was full of projects and amazing times, and just a lot of work.
ANDREW: Awesome, maybe one more.
ARACELLI: So I didn't go to a Project Based Learning middle school, although that sounds super cool. I actually entered Project Based Learning when I was in high school.
When I started I was also pretty shy. Like Janelle had mentioned earlier, I didn't have a lot of confidence in myself, and in public speaking, or even in creating a full concept idea.
Along with working with other kids, I struggled with taking on all the work. So I was used to being put in like groups when we did have something that was a project, and being the only one to work on it, so I think one of the biggest things that I've learned over the past three years has been how to delegate my work to other like fellow students, and not just taking all that burden onto myself. And I learned about myself through these projects as well.
We had a project earlier this year, and it was given to us by our environmental science teacher, and I really enjoyed her class, because not only did she teach us in, I mean, I like Project Based Learning, but I also like the lecture aspect of school, so she would give us a lecture, but when it came down to the project part, what she would end up doing is that she would kind of let us pick what we wanted to do, or what we wanted to focus based on what we had learned.
So for example we were learning about agricultural pollution and agricultural runoff and stuff like that, and I realized that that didn't really excite me as much as the humanitarian and ethics part of that, so instead my team ended up creating what we call the seed library, and the seed library helped us.
And it gave us the opportunity to look more into our communities' economical stance. As you guys know, Napa — I don't know if you guys do know, actually, but it's pretty expensive here, and you know not everyone has that kind of money, but like including people that live there.
And so being able to create a space, and our future plans are to put them into the corners of middle school, the corners of elementary schools, so that elementary school kids can, you know, entice their parents, and be like, hey, I want plants, and then they can go off from there and be able to create their own garden, along with like instruction manuals and stuff. So I think that that really fed into my own passion of personal humanitarian work, and what I want to do in the future.
ANDREW: Awesome. So let's keep going and we'll hit you with a new question.
So how do you think your work with projects will affect you into your future, and what skills do you think you will use in your post-New Tech High future, or post-high school perhaps future?
JUAN: I'm sure I'm gonna use a lot of the communication skills that I learned at New Tech. I use it actually in my everyday life.
I work at a burger place, Squeezin'. I don't know if people have heard about it, but there, I meet all sorts of different people, with all sorts of different backgrounds, and honestly, I'm able to communicate with them, really talk to them. They're able to hear my story, I'm able to hear their story.
And that's something I really learned from New Tech, because before I got there, I went to Vintage, and there I wasn't really an open student. I was more shut off, away from all my teachers, and there I was really able to, you know, put myself into the projects, really apply myself in everything I learned. And honestly that's a skill I'm sure I'm going to use every single day in my barber career, and in the career I hold now.
ARACELLI: So I agree with Juan. I think that one of the biggest things that I've taken away from PBL, and from New Tech in general, has been how to communicate with people not just my age, but of all ages.
I think that that's somewhere that I struggled with when I first started, and especially going into the field that I want to go into, I need to learn how to use those things.
Along with that, our school requires us to do an internship. My internship is working in one of the representatives' offices, and so that is a lot of talking, that's a lot of communicating, it's a lot of talking on the phone, it's a lot of dealing with situations that you don't, I mean you have no idea. Every day is a new day in that office.
So I think that PBL definitely taught me how to communicate with other people, along with taking stuff as it goes, taking, you know, finding solutions to problems.
CASE: As Juan and Aracelli both said, I think communication is a huge part of PBL, and has kind of been what shaped my learning experience, at least before going to a PBL school.
You know, my kindergarten through eighth grade year, I went to this very small school in a very small town called Calistoga. I don't know if any of you know where Calistoga is, but I never had positive experiences with teachers, students, anything like that.
I never really had positive communication. I became pretty shut off because of that, and going to New Tech and being put in somewhat uncomfortable situations with, you know, both teachers and students, has kind of shaped this idea that I know that I need to communicate.
Now I know that that's kind of like a necessary thing that I need to do, and so I've been able to shape how to negotiate with others, how to collaborate with others, how to problem-solve with others, and I think bringing that into my future is really, that's the main thing.
I think I've grown from PBL, and I think that's the main thing I need to bring into my future, because I definitely know that, you know, there's going to be a lot of people I work with who I need to be used to that type of communication, and even conflict, to be able to like, carry on in life.
ANDREW: Cool, so let's hit it with another one. So what do you think that it takes for a student to be successful in a PBL class?
JUAN: Personally, from what I saw, what it takes to be successful is honestly, just be yourself. Don't try to put on this act that you know that you're a cool kid or anything. Just be yourself.
Get along with students, because everyone in my school, New Tech — personally I don't know how it is at bigger schools, but everybody knew each other. There was no time where, or rarely a time, we would really see anybody conflicting with each other. Of course, conflict happens at a school, that's just how kids are, but genuinely everybody knew each other. There wasn't a time where I walked past and I didn't see a familiar face, so genuinely just be yourself, because everybody at that school is going to be accepting.
And honestly, the time that a project was probably most difficult was the time that I got my sophomore year, because I didn't, like I said, I didn't go there my freshman year. I got thrown in there, and it was really different, because I was so used to, you know, just everybody doing their equal part of the project and just getting the project done, making sure you got the grade.
But it wasn't really about the grade there. It was making sure you learned, and that's what I got, from not even the teachers, from the students. They were trying to make sure that I really understood it.
A student themself told me they were like, the grade doesn't matter, let's just make sure we're actually understanding what we're doing here, and you know, that's something that stood out for me since that day.
And you know I still hang out with that student to this day. He's graduated now. You know, it's pretty it's pretty cool, like you make a lot of different friendships there. It's amazing.
JANELLE: I will add that I've been asked this question multiple times: what makes a student successful, and there is no ideal success type of thing, because success can be very different for many people.
And I think that's another thing that I learned from Project Based Learning, that no one's gonna think the same, no one's going to work the same, no one's going to learn the same, everybody's different.
And Project Based Learning has showed that each person's differences can help us create a bigger and better change, for whatever it is, if it's a small project or if it's something bigger for the community, there will always be a different view, a different output. Everything's going to be different, no issue is going to be the same.
FATIMA: So one thing I wanted to add to all of you guys' response was that every student has a different point of view in every project.
You might be like, oh, they have the same mindset or something, everyone has a different point of view into a project, but to be successful, as Janelle said, it doesn't have to always be like "oh, you're like, really smart" and all that stuff, for situations like that.
But to be successful, you have to be proud of yourself no matter what, even if it's like, "oh I probably don't, or can't do that good.” That's what makes you think negative, but always have a positive mindset.
Because I remember back in elementary, well, middle school, technically, always have a positive attitude, because you don't know how other people will think of you, so it's just better to be yourself, as Juan said, too.
ANDREW: Awesome. So Juan actually kind of got us started on this second question, but we'll dedicate some time specifically for that one.
And that is just to think about a time that a project was really difficult for you, and what was it that helped you to push through that difficulty?
JANELLE: I think a project that was, I don't think the work was difficult, but more was the information I was getting was hard to hear.
We had a project in our senior year. Our economics class, and they were asking us to look at an issue that really affects our county, and I chose immigration, and how COVID has really affected us, and how it has just affected many people.
And something that was very difficult to do was really get everybody's point of view, because with the Project Based Learning, they wanted us not just to get a personal person's view, they also wanted us to do a more of a looking at a government, or looking how the government has helped, what acts have been done.
Just overall, looking at what has already been done, so we can go ahead and add to that, or to just overall help out, and just overall add our input, so that we can be able to have a better, just better community, and just add more to it.
CASE: This past year, in my junior year, we had an assignment, and we were supposed to find an unsung hero. Basically an important figure in history that you know hasn't been widely spoken about, isn't widely known, as making the change that they've made.
And so we were supposed to take that unsung hero, and create a children's book, and we had picked our own partners for this project. I ended up picking someone who I didn't know very well, but I had a lot of trust in. And I had an unexpected outcome with this partner, and we ended up having some communication boundaries, and you know obviously COVID, and nothing helped with that.
But you know, I think what helped me push through the difficulties of that project, the communication boundaries, the deadline things, is really being able to negotiate, communicate, with not only that partner, but my teachers.
I was able to take time for, to sit down with them, and they were able to make negotiations with me, to help me adapt, to the change in attitude and commitment from my partner, and I was able to create almost a different expectation with them, to where I had expectations and requirements that more fit what I was able to complete, and what I was able to really focus on with my aspect of the project.
And so I was able to end up with a book that was a little bit different from most of my classmates, but I was able to still push through, and get that grade, and really come out with an equal amount of work to everybody else, with it being my own experience.
ANDREW: One of my favorites. So think about the teachers that you have learned the most from. So what happens in their class that helps you to learn?
JUAN: This is actually a question that stood out a lot to me, because something I got from this, what really is a teacher.
Of course, yes, I got an education from everybody, every class I was in, I was able to learn something in, but what a teacher is. I really learned a lot from a staff member, actually named Ms. Sharington. She was a teacher I was able to go to since my sophomore year.
The year I got there, I was a really quiet student. I didn't really talk, and honestly just being able to talk to someone there, even if it was a staff member, it really taught me how to grow.
She showed me how to mature. She helped me through so many personal issues, and genuinely most of my, I want to say, my graduation, why I was really able to graduate, was for her, because she taught me so much. She showed me so much effort, so much support that I've never gotten from any other teacher, and I've been to a couple schools.
And so genuinely, that's the moment that I can really learn from, because I learned so much from her.
ANDREW: For context, Ms. Sharington is our registrar, so when he's saying that he's open about his definition of what a teacher means, I just wanted to make sure that that part was clear as well.
JANELLE: For me personally, I have a hard time building a bond with teachers, and mostly for the fact that I'm not the best at communicating, and I don't really, well, before I didn't know how to express how I didn't understand the work.
And one teacher that really stood out to me was Ms. Warnock. She was the most supportive teacher I had, because of every little thing, even if it was an at home problem, she made sure to see that I was okay.
Even if she saw that I was tired, she would ask me "Hey, what are you doing? Are you okay? You can go ahead and take a nap if you need, we're not doing something really important today."
But going back to Juan, what he said, as well, I had another staff member who really impacted me, and who actually helped me so much, to the point to want to help others in my career of choice, and that would be our principal, Ms. Miller.
For me, she was my vice principal since freshman year, and her and I had not the best bond. I did not like her, but she told me one thing that stuck to me, and it was "I'm gonna make you like me," and that's exactly what she did. I love Ms. Miller, and to this day I will say she was one of the teachers that really helped me get through life.
FATIMA: So there's a special person in this audience that I would like to say "thank you" from freshman year to upcoming senior year, and that'll be Mr. Dev, he's right there in the audience, I would like to say “thank you” to him.
Since freshman year, I remember freshman year, he called me up for some help in classes, and I was kind of confused, because I was like, "why do I need help when I could just do it myself?" But throughout that freshman year, I remember him checking up on me like every single time we would pass by each other and I started to have confidence in him, and trusting him a lot, too.
But he has been there since freshman year, and he really has supported me because, without him, I would have probably not been here, or I would have probably been like, failing my whole high school years.
But thankfully for him, he's gonna be our future principal at New Tech High School, and honestly, that's, how would I say, a good thing to many students. He has been there for mostly all the students, even upcoming seniors. He's still been there.
And one thing that I learned from him was to have confidence. And a lot of teachers, because you don't know what teachers go through in their daily life… I feel like crying, but honestly teachers are really supportive in certain situations. So all of, I don't know whose teacher you guys are, teachers or not, but one thing you guys should know is that students do care about you. And always know that students do also go through things too, but just know, teachers, never give up on yourself. That's one thing for sure, because you don't know there's students that look up to you, as I look up to Mr. Dev.
So teachers, always have a positive attitude. And also people that are not teachers, always have that positive attitude, because students do look up to you guys.
ANDREW: Alright, so this takes us to one that I think we'll take an opportunity to give all of you a chance to respond to.
And so this one is that you have an audience of teachers and others that are really interested in PBL. And so what advice would you give teachers as they think about bringing projects into their classrooms?
And maybe we'll just keep it simple, and we'll start with Janelle, and just roll down the line.
JANELLE: So one thing about Project Based Learning that I honestly loved was at the end of every project, they had us do a feedback on our peers and we got to tell the truth.
We got to tell who did the work, and who did it, what grade they deserved, and what effort they put in. So we were able to not just tell the teacher that "hey, next project I don't really work best with these people," or "hey, I've had a project with them, and you know I can't really work with them because my work ethic is different."
Like I said before, everybody's different sometimes, you need the right pair to do the dynamic duo for all that project. I can tell you, me and one of my friends, we would knock out those projects so fast, and there would always be one student who was like "oh, okay I don't have to do anything."
So that would probably be my one thing, is to make sure that students are communicating, and be able to work and be able to communicate, so they don't have to wait till the last minute to let them know that their partner didn't do work.
JUAN: What I would have to say, it would kind of have to bounce back to, well, what Fatima was saying.
If you guys ever have a project that you guys want to throw out there, no matter if some students don't give you the reaction you want, don't give up. Genuinely keep pushing at it, keep going at it, because there's going to be that one student, that project could have changed their entire view, and how they viewed high school.
You know, what I mean, honestly like Fatima was saying, just keep going, keep pushing, because genuinely, all the students, as much as we will rebuttal, you know, argue with you, we respect you guys. You guys are up here teaching us how to be adults, how to make a living in this world, and as much as someone will say "when will I use this in the future," just be like, "wait till you get to life, you'll see it," you know.
FATIMA: An advice that I will give to all the teachers for upcoming projects would be that choose a project that will engage everyone, because there's certain projects that people wouldn't really care, or really pay much attention, but choose something that seems fun and that will engage many students.
Like, make sure they have that positive attitude though, because that's very important, and also communication, too. So an advice would be to make a project seem fun and engaging too, because the past projects I've been through in New Tech High, not all projects are or seemed important, but they really did have a big impact on me.
So make a project very fun or just engaging, or really make it seem important, because at one point, these projects will change their life. No matter what, it will have a big impact on them throughout life as well, so just make the projects funner, like engaging.
ARACELLI: I have a couple things that I wanted to point out for advice to you guys. So one thing that our teachers do that we don't always appreciate it when it happens, but we will thank them later, is putting us in groups that we would not have picked ourselves.
Like if they know that something's going on, like I think Juan had talked about it, our school's small. Sometimes our teachers like to put us with people that they know we have issues with, sometimes. It sucks when you get paired with them at first, but having to be forced to be in the same area with them, and work within the same project with them for like three weeks, I mean, if you end up not liking that person at the end of it then, I mean, at least now you know you can work with them. Like in the real world, we're going to have to work with people we don't like all the time, so this is just practice.
Another thing I was going to mention to you guys is to give your students an outlet, like some type of outlet. You know, they were saying we all have things that we have going on in our lives as well as you do, so I'm sure you guys can relate to it too. I mean I'm sure some of you guys journal, or scream, I don't know.
And one thing that over COVID, because we weren't allowed to be in school all the time, we had this one teacher. She was our English teacher, and she used to give us an assignment every week. We had to write something in a journal. She had a few prompts for us, but we didn't always have to follow them, and let me just tell you, me and my friends ranted. This was like our drop journal, and she told us that she didn't have to read it, she just graded us for doing it. And I know that so many students benefited from those journals, because even if it was a couple sentences, we were alone.
You know, COVID was a time where we were locked in with our family and that's it, and so just that outlet, and even beyond COVID, that outlet can help anybody.
And so I think that's important to give your students an area that they feel safe in, not only in your classroom, and not only if they don't feel safe in confiding in you, but an area where they can get things off their mind and into the classroom.
CASE: To bounce off of what all three of my peers here said, I think PBL is really based on engagement. So I believe that flexibility in the classroom, like I spoke about earlier, being able to negotiate with my teachers to make the project better, fit me as a student.
I think there's ways that we can create a project, or like ourselves talking earlier, for example, we had that project, and it was about agriculture and the impacts of agriculture, especially locally. So she was able to find that project, and talk to our teacher, and make it more about her interest and her group's interest and humanitarian impacts.
So being able to create a project with expectations, and because that's realistic, you have to create a project, and have expectations, and have requirements and things like that, but to make it flexible around a student's interest, that's where you really grab engagement. That's where I think that interest comes from, and so bringing that type of flexibility into the classroom, I think, will bring interest. It'll bring joy to the students, like to sit there and learn about something I've been wanting to, you know, learn more about, research about, and giving them that outlet, and them actually being able to get a grade for that, it's kind of satisfying in a way.
Also just like what Aracelli was saying, those kids, we all are put into situations where we need to be able to work with others. That's what happens in real life, and New Tech has brought us a lot of us, I mean, literally last month I had this project where I was with a bunch of people who I knew didn't specifically, you know, get along with me, but I was able to work with them, and just communicate and be able to create a space where we all had, we're in a similar boat, and could kind of push through, get work done, you know, collaborate. You know, we're all in the same spot there, we're all having the same experience.
And so working together is, you know, being pushed to do that is so important, and it really helps us learn a lot about each other and about ourselves, and just about our topics.
ANDREW: Awesome. So thanks for letting us go a little long. I think we'll kind of end on that question, but thanks to the students for coming out today.
And as as one last plug — I'm just projecting here — if you have any questions or are interested in a tour of our campus, to kind of check out what it is that we do, to kind of see behind the scenes of what it is that students are sharing a little bit about, I have an email address up here that you can follow up with. In case you or your school are interested in a little bit more of that, having opportunities for tours or whatever it is that comes to mind, shoot us an email.