Daily Star photo/AARON MUELLER Students work on projects on their MacBooks Wednesday in a learning studio of the Niles New Tech wing of Niles High School. The entrepreneurial academy held a dedication ceremony Wednesday.

Archived Story

NHS dedicates New Tech

Published 10:26pm Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Jerry Holtgren caught himself several times using old terminology when describing the Niles New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy at its dedication

Daily Star photo/AARON MUELLER Niles School board members and Niles High School students pose for a photo at the Niles New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy dedication ceremony Wednesday.

ceremony Wednesday.
Indeed, with New Tech, it’s out with the old vocabulary — like “teachers,” “students” and even “classrooms” — and in with the new words like “facilitators,” “learners” and “learning studios.”
“I never thought I would be done being a teacher,” Holtgren said. “I don’t teach. I facilitate.”
Holtgren said he and the other six facilitators in the school have to get used to not “spoon-feeding” the learners and rather help them find their own answers to problems.
There are no bells, classrooms, textbooks, desks, hall passes or even detention in the New Tech wing of Niles High School. Instead, students have flexible schedules, 1,600-square-foot learning studios, laptops and four-person pods with swivel chairs.
But for many of the students, it’s not the new technology and physical learning environment that excites them the most.
“It’s the way class is run,” said Nicholas Suckle, one of 128 in the first freshman class. “There are no lectures. We’re given a problem and we have to solve it.”
There are 40 students in each learning studio, divided into groups of four for various projects, led by two facilitators. All learners are supplied with MacBooks and have various tasks to complete throughout the day. Timers are displayed on a projector screen to keep projects on schedule.
New Tech student Adam Langmeyer said learners are currently working on a project to figure out how to bring more jobs to Niles. The students are working with the Southwest Michigan Growth Alliance on the project and are expected to produce a four-minute video that focuses on how successful local business owners have brought jobs to the area.
In their biology studies, students are heading to the Riverfront Park Friday to study the organisms of the St. Joseph River. They will be producing informational signs for the city about the ecosystem of the river.
This project-based approach is stepping the district out of an outdated format of high school learning, according to Supt. Richard Weigel.
“We have a model of education that began in the 19th century — but no more,” he said. “This is a new model for the 21st century.”
Jeff Curry, school board president and owner of Express-1 in Buchanan, said employers are looking for workers who can find solutions and have the “it” factor, which is what New Tech is all about.
“We’re trying to give our students a leg up in the area and in the country,” Curry said.
The school will add 125 freshmen the next three years, adding new wings in the high school along the way.
For more information, visit www.nilesnewtech.org or www.facebook.com/nilesnewtech.

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