Exceeding standards

Project-based learning high school aims to prepare students for 21st century

“We’re trying to build a program that’s building kids ready to launch into the 21st century world and economy and to find their passions.” — Aaron Smith, principal of Discovery and Odyssey high schools

The stairs inside Discovery High School that will serve as a common area. The stairs face the flex exhibition hall where students can host a range of performances.

The inside of a 3,000-square-foot projects lab can be used for science and art classes. The room can serve as one large space or be divided into smaller classroom areas.

The development of an amphitheatre at Discovery High School is underway this summer. The event space will be used for a variety of performances.

The construction crews and Camas School District administrators are hard at work to solidify the nooks and crannies of the district’s first project-based learning (PBL) high school as the physical building and organizational details for Discovery High School are in the final stages.

The high school is set to open and serve 120 freshmen students starting this fall, for the upcoming 2018-19 school year.

Discovery High, the new home of the phoenix, is the third high school option for Camas students and will complement Odyssey Middle School in delivering flexible, personalized instruction to students through collaborative work on projects that dive into curriculum that satisfies the state standards of learning.

“We’re really excited to offer this additional opportunity,” Aaron Smith, principal of both Discovery and Odyssey, said. “In my opinion, this is not an alternative education, this is an additional opportunity that is more aligned with what colleges and employers are asking for–which is for students and employees that know more than content, and who are really able to work with other people, collaborate and to create, adapt and innovate because our economy and world changes almost by the hour.”

The schools stand adjacent to each other on the project-based learning campus formerly occupied by Sharp Electronics Corporation, at 5780 Pacific Rim Blvd., Camas.

While Odyssey is set in a former Sharp building, the new 90,000-square-foot Discovery building has followed the industrial design and stands out from the traditional high school layout.

The $46 million high school, funded by the $120 million bond passed in 2016, will feature a 3,000-square-foot projects lab for science and art; a research and design studio, 3,000 square feet, that will serve as a general purpose room and be comparable to an architect’s studio and provide personal storage for students; traditional direct instruction rooms and a “mission control,” staff workroom.

These different rooms will be provided to each grade, with the 3,000 square foot rooms having the ability to to be separated into smaller sections, Smith said.

The school will also feature shared common areas, such as the flex exhibition hall, fabrication lab and library.

The flex exhibition hall is designed acoustically for student exhibitions, special events and dramatic performances, Smith said.

The fabrication lab, or “fab lab,” will serve as a makerspace and give students access to a computer numerical control, laser cutter, 3D printers, metal working, woodworking and textile machines.

The offerings of the fab lab will change and grow as student interests are developed, Smith said.

The library lined on one side with windows overlooking the hills will be stocked with fiction collections and be a place of respite, Smith said.

“It’s really to inspire the joy of reading and literature,” the principal added.

Logistics figured out

The administration team and teachers on the PBL campus are anticipating a big year ahead, in terms of both the middle and high school becoming fully integrated and self-sustaining programs.

The team has sorted the details out about the evaluation of high school credits, graduation requirement and report cards, as well as, what advanced placement (AP) classes and electives will look like at Discovery.

The high school students will have a language arts and history teacher, math teacher and science teacher.

“They will be served by a team, so that is different than a large comprehensive program because then the team will not only be able to get to know the students well and personalize their learning, but also be able to collaborate extensively to plan the larger grade level projects,” Smith said.

The normal school schedule will resemble what’s in place already at Odyssey Middle School.

In the morning, there will be more subject specific instruction and then there will be project specific time in the afternoon and electives, Smith said.

“There are certainly requirements of getting all the content standards of each subject area for their 24 credits,” he continued. “But how the team divides the time, there will be a basic structure but it will be somewhat fluid.”

In regards to report cards, students will receive a traditional transcript, similar to the ones at other Camas high schools.

The students have to earn their 24 credits for graduation, and the team is in the process of finalizing how it will take standard space grading that is informative for students and parents to know how they’re doing in terms of growth and learning standards, but also formulas that take the multiple standards and turn them into a letter grade, Smith said.

“It’ll be a hybrid,” Smith said. “I think it’ll be a nice mix of not only satisfying what parents and most colleges expect in terms of a transcript, but also providing our kids with a more detailed and informative feedback system for how they’re doing with their learning.”

As for elective classes, the core offerings will be a design and engineering scope and sequence, music and spanish.

While these are the key electives, students will have the flexibility to earn elective credits by completing “passion projects,” where they demonstrate their learning on pre-approved topics they’re passionate about.

“That will also be unique,” Smith said. “We won’t have a long catalog of electives, like a large comprehensive high school, but we will have the flexibility to be able to let kids go deep into a personal area of interest and let them earn credits in that way.”

The school will offer students the opportunity to take the AP human geography and AP environmental science exams.

“There will be a few opportunities, and we’re also investigating other dual credit opportunities that are more in alignment with the project-based learning philosophy,” Smith said. “A lot of AP courses are about content and it’s not so much about application. We want to have some (courses), but we don’t want to be driven by the AP.”

The PBL schools aim to provide students with the skills to adapt, grow and create because there aren’t many people who spend 30 or more years performing one skill, Smith said.

“So we’re not building a school and a program that’s about compliance, we’re trying to build a program that’s building kids ready to launch into the 21st century world and economy and to find their passions.”

The open house for Discovery High School will be held at 5 p.m., August 30, 5780 N.W. Pacific Rim Blvd., Camas.