Plano ISD’s Daring New Tech High School

Projector Plant

When you enter The Academy, the first thing you encounter is a tropical plant with flat digital projection surfaces instead of leaves, displaying videos about the school played on a variety of adorable pico projectors.

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Renee Godi, The Academy’s principal, took us through a detailed overview of everything connected to the new school’s origins, approach, and the philosophy behind STEAM–Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, & Math.

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These walls are a whiteboard!

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Teacher desks. Vacant.

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The Academy renovated their entire building with the help of corporate funding. The new floor plan of the school is meant to emphasize collaboration and a sense of creative freedom and eliminate the sense of ownership that comes with classrooms.

 

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A view of the shop for using heavy machinery (and even welding). Note the 21st-century cubbies in the back. They’re for evolving submarines made of PVC pipe, not tote trays filled with worksheets.

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Another view of the shop.

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I’ll forgo the obvious opportunity for a Big Brother joke. This is a wide-angle webcam trained on the shop for the world to see.

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Endless cascades of project ideas on the wall of the teachers’ war room give an indication of the boundless creativity present among the Facilitators. This is aided by the immense privilege of a zero year: each grade level team spends an entire year without students developing meticulous project plans and developing themselves. Conferences, expert coaching, role-play, and lots and lots of collaboration are all on the menu.

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Enlargements of the standards for all the subject areas on the wall in the teachers’ collab room are meant to allow teachers to discover all the common territory on which cross-curricular projects can be built. That is the whole philosophy of STEAM: it should teach all the letters at once.

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At The Academy, this issue comes up so often, they created a visual to hang on the wall.

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This magazine is published by Dale Dougherty, a founder of the Maker movement, who has already visited The Academy to speak to the students. (Click the photo to go to Makerspace.com, one of Dale’s web projects where you can find the Makerspace Playbook.)

 

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Traditional learning settings still have their place at The Academy, at least those like a chem lab where hands-on, collaborative learning experiences are the rule of the day.

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A chemistry experiment to allow students to discover ways to purify water. Supplies and materials are abundant.

 

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A wall of storyboards.

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The front cover of a student-made magazine to encourage human beings to colonize the moon. STEAM-y.

 

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A close-up of one of the magazine storyboards.

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A spread from inside the magazine. Note the mix of real advertisements with student generated layouts and content. Am I being too presumptuous when I say this group chose a red-white-and-blue color scheme to attract American colonists with a subtle nod to patriotism?

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Another spread.

 

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Another spread from the same magazine. Note the subscription card.

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Another project from the early days of this baby school: propaganda. History and the letter A of STEAM shine bright here.

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Another in-depth collaboration between history and art. This student explained to me that coats-of-arms allowed in depth study of cultural symbols like animals and even colors. This one was for France.

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Solar car project.

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On day two, students were already learning through projects. Their objective was to take cardboard, plus other up-cycled materials to build a derby car that could actually run off of this ramp. Greatest distance wins.

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Students fitness center. Students in The Academy have flexibility and choice in how they fulfill their PE credit and it includes the opportunity to document workout time in this center before or after school.

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Library and seating area.

 

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