Frequently Asked Questions

Elementary FAQs | Junior High FAQs | High School FAQs

General FAQs

What is the immediate plan for the Project-Based Learning Network (formerly New Tech) in the West Des Moines Community Schools (WDMCS)?

WDMCS will continue to add one grade level each year, following our learners who joined the PBL Network during the 2014-15 school year. The PBL Network pathway will be available for grades K-12 by the 2020-21 school year. Please reach out to your principal for more information about the PBL Network classes that will be available at Valley Southwoods and Valley High School.

How will the Project-Based Learning Network environment be different from the more traditional environment?

The PBL Network embraces three key elements that set us apart from traditional teams/schools:

  • Engaging and rigorous instruction based on project- and problem-based learning (PBL and PrBL). Our students learn by doing—completing projects and solving problems that are relevant to their lives.
  • A focus on collaborative culture promoting trust, respect, and responsibility. The Project-Based Learning Network empowers students and teachers with exceptional ownership of the learning environment. Our students are given a level of responsibility similar to what they might experience in a professional workplace.
  • Technology that is fully applied. Smart use of technology supports our innovative approach to instruction and culture. Networked computers allow our students to become self-directed learners who no longer rely primarily on teachers or textbooks for knowledge.

Do Project-Based Learning (PBL) Network teams cover the same curriculum as the traditional pathway teams?

Yes. All West Des Moines Community Schools are accountable to uphold the same Iowa Core standards. Learners in PBL Network schools and classrooms will be individually evaluated on the standards as part of each project they complete or problem they solve.

Do PBL Network learners have homework?

Yes. Whether it’s completing part of a project, a reading assignment, or practice problems, PBL Network learners do sometimes have to complete work outside of the classroom.

Where does the name Project-Based Learning Network come from?

When we decided to change the pathway name, we chose a name that would represent its history and future in our district. Project-Based Learning Network highlights the teaching and learning philosophy that drives this pathway, while honoring our connection to and place in the New Tech Network.

What is New Tech Network?

New Tech Network (NTN) is a non-profit school development organization that partners with districts and organizations to implement innovative schools. With more than 200 schools nationally, New Tech schools are characterized by a positive school culture that empowers students and teachers, an engaging project-based curriculum, and the integrated use of technology to facilitate relevant teaching and learning. Learn more in the New Tech Network 2017 Impact Report at bit.ly/2017NTNReport.

Elementary FAQs

Is the PBL Network just for advanced students?

Project-based learning can be a powerful tool for all students. Additional classroom support and instruction for PBL Network’s diverse learners come from the Extended Learning Program, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) teachers, and the Special Education program. This can help inform grouping considerations and project accommodations, modifications, etc.

If a learner doesn’t complete part of a project, how will it impact their group?

It shouldn’t. Most projects and problems are assessed using a variety of measures, including group evaluation. For this reason, learners start all projects and problems with group contracts—written agreements that outline how the group will operate, who will be responsible for each task, and what will happen when someone doesn’t do their share of the work.

Junior High FAQs

Can PBL Network learners still take electives like a foreign language, music, and art? What about advanced classes and extracurriculars?

Yes. Junior high PBL Network learners are only in the pathway for their core classes: humanities (social studies and English), math, and science. PBL Network learners and students in the traditional pathway have lunch and block/elective classes like P.E., band, and Spanish together. PBL Network learners have the same access to advanced courses and extracurricular activities as all other students.

If a learner doesn’t complete part of a project, how will it impact their group?

Most projects and problems are assessed using a variety of measures, including group evaluation. For this reason, learners start all projects and problems with group contracts—written agreements that outline how the group will operate, who will be responsible for each task, and what will happen when someone doesn’t do their share of the work.

Are projects always given a group grade?

Grades for most projects are based on individual assessment of mastery. It is a goal of the facilitators to gather information that indicates the mastery of each member. However, projects and problems may be assessed using group evaluation, which is why we use group contracts.

High School FAQs

Can PBL Network learners take electives such as foreign language, music, and art?

Yes. We call a course taken outside of the PBL Network pathway a “passport” course. Some elective choices will be built into the PBL Network pathway, and students will have the ability to passport out to take other courses. Students can take speech and business in the PBL Network pathway but will passport out for Spanish, band, and other courses.

If a learner doesn’t complete part of a project, how will it impact their group?

Most projects and problems are assessed using a variety of measures, including group evaluation. For this reason, learners start all projects and problems with group contracts—written agreements that outline how the group will operate, who will be responsible for each task, and what will happen when someone doesn’t do their share of the work. Steps are in place to assist learners if a group member chooses not to do their share of the work. Learners may have the opportunity to gain the critical real-world skill of addressing their peers in a professional way.

Are projects always given a group grade?

Grades for most projects are based on individual assessment of mastery. It is a goal of the facilitators to gather information that indicates the mastery of each member. However, projects and problems may be assessed using group evaluation, which is why we use group contracts.