A New Way to Educate
Chicago Tech Academy is a unique and progressive school, transforming what education can look like for underserved students. With a curriculum built on project-based learning, our school works to educate its students through real-world experiences. Project-based learning allows the students to be inventive and enhance their critical thinking skills through creative projects designed by ChiTech teachers.
One of our school’s most ambitious projects is a 3-octave, chromatic pipe organ made from PVC pipes and a wooden housing. The feat was led by beloved music teacher and instructional leadership team member, Joshua Dresser, with the help of his colleagues, Grace Shin and TJ Pavlov. The project forced students to pull from their knowledge of music, psychology, and physics to successfully complete it.
The main objectives of the projects are for the students to produce a complex, high-quality product with a high level of craftsmanship by working with their peers and using interdisciplinary knowledge to overcome any challenges they may face while completing the project. However, one of the most important components of a project is for the students to have an audience. Having an audience raises the stakes, and it gives the students an end goal to strive for.
After 12 weeks of persistence and dedication, the pipe organ was complete, and students reaped the benefits of their tireless efforts. Soon after the completion, our school hosted an exhibition where students played melodies from songs they had learned on the working pipe organ in front of a live audience.
ChiTech recognizes that a traditional education does not effectively work for every type of student. Our school works to foster an environment for a diverse community of learners. When the students graduate, they are equipped with the tools they need to further their education to college or even start their careers.
When asked how he believes project-based learning compares to traditional education, Mr. Dresser said,
“I am in a unique spot at ChiTech because I also teach a dual-credit course for Kennedy King College which is modeled after a traditional college course with lectures and a grade based solely on a midterm and a final. While I enjoy the content of the course, I know that many of the students will not remember much after it’s over. The material in the course is not applied by the students in a meaningful way. In project-based learning, students are creating products that they will be proud of and share with a large audience. At the end of a project, students can not only talk about their learning, they can show you something real that showcases the knowledge that they own. Students are also managing themselves in teams over long-term products which requires a host of skill sets that you can’t learn by memorizing facts in a traditional classroom.”
Dresser also stresses how important teamwork is to the final outcome of the projects. Not just from the students but from the faculty as well.
“Almost every person in the building I have made a memory with, whether it has been a professional collaboration, or discussing our kids, or hanging out together outside of school. Most of my best friends are on the staff here. I really trust and care about my colleagues. That kind of adult culture has translated into a school where kids also feel loved and cared for, and it makes me happy to come to work!”