James E. Dottke High School Student Schedules Designed to Support Project-Based Learning

James E. Dottke High School Student Schedules Designed to Support Project-Based Learning
Posted on 10/13/2020
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When James E. Dottke High School transformed to a project-based learning school, staff knew to provide students with an equally high quality and rigorous educational experience, they had to be very intentional about how they structured the school day.  
“We needed a system for delivering content and time for students to complete projects,” explained Principal, Greg Goelz.  “Over the summer, we held virtual meetings multiple times a week to develop what we feel is a truly unique and highly individualized high school experience for students that attend our school.”
Research First
The Dottke team used information gathered from visiting other project-based schools in the midwest.  They also worked closely with High Tech High in California. “We became very interested in Avalon School -- a highly successful project-based school in St. Paul, MN. Part of what makes Avalon unique is how different their overall structure compares to a traditional high school,” said Goelz.
“Typically, students in a traditional school setting have seven classes, approximately 50 minutes each, for a semester or a school year.  Students at Avalon, and now Dottke, spend their day in 90 minute blocks of time in three distinct settings; traditional Classes, Seminars, and Advisory.”
At Dottke, because each class period is twice as long, traditional classes like Biology or Algebra 2, run for a semester instead of a year.  Seminars are short classes (some only a few weeks long) that focus on specific content (e.g., Vietnam War, Storytelling in Song Lyrics, Forms of Comedy in Literature, etc.).  A student then either combines multiple seminars or does a project concurrently with the seminar to earn credit for the course. 
When students are not in a traditional class or a seminar, they attend Advisory. At some schools, Advisory serves as a homeroom or check-in time. At Dottke, Advisory is a space where students work with adults to brainstorm, design, plan, and implement projects.  “All project work follows the same  process so students become proficient at learning what and how to do things based on their interests.”
“So far we’ve solved organizational problems by building bookcases, delivered specific content by designing websites, and expressed literacy voice by writing children's books. The focus on project-based learning and new structures make it easy for students to explore their passions and do work they are excited about,” says Social Studies teacher, Phil Frahm.
“True deeper learning only takes place when a student is allowed to creatively show mastery of class content that aligns with their individual identities,” adds Deeper Learning Coach, Alex Bruzan.
“The flexibility in our new scheduling process empowers students.  It allows them to truly individualize their educational day based around their specific needs and interests.  Because each student meets with their CREW (homeroom) teacher quarterly to develop their own schedule, students are excited to learn and our staff is equally as excited to partner with them to see what they are going to build, make, or do with that learning.”
The complete list of first quarter seminars can be found at dottke.com/a-day-at-dottke.  For more information about James E. Dottke High School go to www.dottke.com