Project based learning is otherwise known as “21st century skills”.  Educators are realizing that in today’s economic times, it’s important for students to be the next generation in the workplace with not only a good education – but with an ability to make choices, voice opinion, be organized, use time management skills, self-assess, and know how to network.  Project based education laced with Washington state’s STEM education (emphasizing and inspiring passion in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is the goal of several high schools in our state.  Add into the mix involvement and mentoring with industry experts in real world situations, and you’ve got tomorrow’s leaders well on their way to success – in high school.   Here are some of the local public schools in the Puget Sound going this route:

Cleveland High School
Seattle Public Schools
5511 15th Ave South
Seattle, WA 98108

Changing gears in the fall of 2010, Cleveland High School went from a traditional, 4-year public high school to a STEM public high school. The school is now a district-wide option school. Students who choose to attend and are accepted can use the school’s shuttle system, Metro buses or Light Rail. There are two STEM academies and one College Readiness academy. When the school changed, current Cleveland students and teachers could choose to stay and live up to the new requirements, or move to a different school within the district. Some left – many stayed. The STEM academies are Engineering and Design and Life Sciences and Global Health. Students’ classes in the STEM academies are interdisciplinary – the technology, math and science classes integrate what each other is learning. But there are still core courses taught as well – language arts, social studies, world language, physical education and the arts. There are currently about 700 students attending Cleveland High School, and each year a new class of freshman will be added until the program is at full implementation in 2012-2013.

Aviation High School
Highline Public Schools
615 S 200th Street
Des Moines, WA 98198

Started in 2004, Aviation High School has now graduated three classes from their project based, STEM focused school with an in-depth airplane and aerospace theme. Students are selected after an application and interview process, and sign a 4-year commitment contract to attend the school until graduation. Limiting the school to 400 students means more students apply than are accepted, but also allows more interaction between students and their teachers, many of whom have taken up education as a second career after lives at Microsoft or the US Navy, for example. Every class, from history to math to language arts, incorporates a love of learning about engineering, aviation or space. Imitating a work environment, students are given group projects (and can even fire unproductive team members). Juniors and seniors form corporations and compete with each other for most productivity, best research and development and best management skills. Senior students are placed in a mentoring program with volunteers who are local experts in their fields – from Boeing, Microsoft, and Blue Origin, to name a few. Although the school is in the Highline School District, students commute from as far away as Snohomish and Olympia to attend. And in 2013, the school hopes to move to a new building which will be directly across the street from the Museum of Flight, whose president, Dr. Bonnie Dunbar, is also an Aviation High School board member.

Tacoma Public Schools
5501 North Pearl Street
Tacoma, WA 98407

Started in 2009, the Science and Math Institute (SAMI) was modeled after Tacoma’s School of the Arts (SOTA), which began in 2001. The idea is to inspire students by offering classes that appeal to their interests. The school’s goal is to take advantage of the community’s resources, make the science, math and art courses interdisciplinary, and keep the student body relatively small to encourage communication and connection. In collaboration with Point Defiance’s Park, Zoo and Aquarium, students are given hands-on experiences with marine life, animals and the flora, fauna and wildlife of the Northwest. Classes are often held at these locations in educational spaces provided for the school. Another emphasis of SAMI is community service. Students are able to use their knowledge and skills in real world environments, interning alongside professionals. SAMI is currently accepting applications for its class of 2015. See the school’s website for more information.

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