James E. Dottke High School Focuses on Project-Based Learning

James E. Dottke High School Focuses on Project-Based Learning
Posted on 09/12/2020
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Our District is proud to introduce the new James E. Dottke Project-Based Learning High School.  According to Principal Greg Goelz, “In 1983, Dottke was founded as an alternative education option for our District’s at-risk and credit-deficient high school students.  As part of our Deeper Learning initiative, Dottke’s transformation to the District’s only fully-functional project-based learning school is now complete.”

Over the last few years, the staff at Dottke have been addressing the need to develop a learning model that better prepares students to live life on their own terms.  Dottke’s focus has shifted to delivering a student-driven, project-based learning education to 100% of its students.  The school is prepared to serve up to 250 students, grades nine through twelve, of all backgrounds and abilities.

Dottke’s “intentionally different” approach to teaching and learning, along with many of their instructional practices, is now being recognized as methods that work for all learners.  “At Dottke, we like to say that we move beyond rigorous content delivery by expecting our students to apply what they’ve learned in a meaningful, authentic way. Students create projects with the intention of having a positive impact on other students, their school, their community, and the world” says Goelz.  “Dottke students take what they’ve learned and do something with it.”

A Transformation

The transformation process from an “alternative education school” for select students, to a project-based one for all students, has taken a few years of very intentional research, professional development and direct practice.  “Much of that work took place last spring and this summer as school leaders and teachers brainstormed, planned and developed the structures for their new school.  It was a real labor of love.  One that took the commitment of every single staff person in our building, working together every step of the way,” said Dottke’s Deeper Learning Coach, Alex Bruzan.

Over the summer, Bruzan and Goelz guided Professional Development for teachers to implement an independent project-based learning model for students.  “We created a school schedule to support the model, a plan for on-line student portfolios, an ‘Intro to Dottke’ class, and a website that houses it all,” said Bruzan.

“Staff and students work together using the project-based learning model that focuses on the deeper learning competencies that our District has adopted, while encompassing the district’s mission of fostering “a sense of belonging, and educates the whole child so that every learner achieves success,” adds Goelz. 

Project-Based Learning

The model is based on building the important skills of academic mindset, content knowledge, collaboration, communication, self-directed learning and critical thinking and problem-solving.  Dottke students create projects that display their application of learning in a real and meaningful way.  Projects are stored in their electronic student portfolio where they can later be used for college admission or employment.

Teachers, Kayleigh Bitters and Jenaine Daugherty, created the school’s “Intro to Dottke” class.  It’s a course that all students take when they come to the school. The class teaches students about project development, the design process, self-reflection, peer feedback, partnering with experts, project iteration and going public with their final products. 

“The class is designed to help students understand that risk-taking and failure is all a part of the learning process. We believe that failure is an option but failure to try is not,” said Goelz.

To learn more about project-based learning at James E. Dottke High School, visit dottke.com.