The Workshop School: Where Project-Based Learning Gives Back

Associate Editor

Philadelphia

It’s summer, and students attending the Workshop School—a project-based learning school in the Walnut Hill part of the city—are busy at work.

Their efforts were showcased Monday as part of the Education Innovation Clusters conference here this week, where educators, researchers, and others interested in public schools from around the country are gathering to share ideas and plan for the future in their communities.

At the 5-year-old public school, which is focused on solving real-world problems, building a community is as much a priority as getting the work done, said Katrina Clark, a 9th-grade advisor and English teacher. Students spend 30 minutes a day on this topic, “to make sure we’re working together as a team,” she said.

Only one week into their summer program, the Workshop Schools’ students are rebuilding cars that will be donated as part of a “Cars From the Heart” program, with a target of finishing five cars by the end of the summer.

During the rest of the year, these students will work on the Philly HybridX program to design, build and compete with alternative fuel vehicles—like the one below—in a challenge to demonstrate the limits of vehicle energy efficiency.a. Click for more coverage of parent engagement in schools.

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In another part of the 240-student school, the summer program finds students coming up with ideas about what products they can design and sell as part of Workshop Industries, a program that helps them take what they’ve created, learn about running a business, and sell it online.

This summer, they’re thinking through their product line. “Our merch store website helps support new products in the school,” said Nick Gallagher, a teacher with a background in industrial design. “They’re trying to think creatively, make their own stuff, and have freedom.”

Among the questions they are considering: What merchandise will be most practical to sell? And what will appeal to a new demographic, since most of their buyers are older adults? They want to attract a younger set of customers.

Another group is working on digital programs like animation and photo editing, while a fourth group is learning about and designing a restorative justice program for the school.

Drexel University, which provided the bus for the tour, has been a partner with the Workshop School over the years. Three summers ago, students from the school helped build the city’s first public boathouse, for instance.

It’s partnerships like these that will be a focus of the Education Innovation Clusters conversations here. The clusters are hubs in local communities that bring together educators, entrepreneurs, funders, researchers, and others, to support “innovative teaching and learning in their region,” according to Digital Promise which organizes the annual gathering.

Drexel’s  ExCITe Center, focused on expressive and creative interaction technologies, is a co-host of the conference.

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Coverage of how parents work with educators, community leaders and policymakers to make informed decisions about their children’s education is supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, at waltonk12.org. Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.
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