By Rawan Abu- Zaineh, Class of 2016
Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School is one of a kind. The nearly 400- strong student body has a wide range of different backgrounds, experiences, and frames of thought. Though there seem to be so many differences among us, we come together to create one large and supportive community that is not often seen at other traditional schools.
I have attended CSA since the beginning of my sophomore year. Before that, I attended traditional schooling and had never even heard of a learning environment like CSA’s. I can easily say the benefits of a Project Based Learning (PBL) school are unlike those of a traditional school.
The most undeniable difference between a PBL school and a traditional school is the collaborative atmosphere that pushes students to think outside of the box and interact with others in a constructive way.
It’s important to point out that even at a well- established PBL school, group work is still messy and occasionally dysfunctional. Like all schools, we have students who lack in certain areas and excel at others. From my experience, a typical project group is represented by these different types of group members:
- The Team Captain: immediately starts assigning roles and has the project planned out as the leader. Hopefully, he or she will be flexible enough to not get “tunnel vision” and will listen to others’ ideas.
- The Follower: may lack vision, but listens to instructions and completes his or her tasks as assigned, and is good with content.
- The Zombie: may not be aware of the goals of the current project, but is thinking about all kinds of things, probably creatively. If their creativity can be channeled, good things will happen.
- The Slacker: is often off task but eventually completes the assigned task (after much motivation from the team captain.) Sometimes, facilitators put a group of slackers together to see what will happen when there’s no one there to tell them what to do (and sometimes, it works!)
Most of the students at CSA initially experience growing pains with this system of groups, especially in their early high school years. It is a struggle at first, but the beauty of dealing with others so often is that we learn to correct ourselves early on.
We are taught to reply in positive and constructive ways whenever faced with a dilemma. If a group member is not completing his or her fair share of the product it becomes second nature for most of us to speak to our group mates honestly, yet kindly, to help them and the group succeed.
PBL has taught us to improve communication skills through collaboration in groups. However, communication does not only apply to group work. Speaking to one another is frequent in projects and thus becomes easy; therefore, friendships and relationships are built quickly. In a small and comfortable atmosphere like the one at CSA, we learn to help each other and have that culture of support and collaboration that some traditional schools do not have because of their lack of group work through PBL. The upperclassmen take care of the underclassmen and treat them like younger siblings. The jocks and the geeks come together over their love of competition (we have “Houses” that compete against each other like in Harry Potter- oh yeah!)
Our open atmosphere makes us more inclined to help each other with whatever problems we may face in and out of school. As a senior, I see CSA as one big happy family. Because of the open communication PBL has taught us, we have this amazing atmosphere of which I am so happy to be a part, and from which any school would benefit.