Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tonka's VANTAGE Program is a PBL Model to Follow in 2014

Outside it's 20 degrees below zero. Yesterday, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton cancelled school for all districts in the state.  Today, we're closed again.  And yet, the VANTAGE students arrived at their off-campus business location at 7:30 am this morning dressed professionally and ready to pitch their ideas in the Shark Tank.

The "Shark Tank" consisted of nearly 30 business experts from the Minnetonka community, volunteering on a chilly January morning to support the amazing learning that is happening in the new VANTAGE program.  

An innovative educational approach, VANTAGE provides highly motivated juniors and seniors immersive, real-world experiences in professional settings for half their school day.  Guest instructors, 1:1 mentors and business-partner projects are the primary focus of instructional time, while Minnetonka teachers use a flipped-classroom approach to cover core content for AP Economics, IB Business, and English Technical Writing and Research.  

But at it's core, VANTAGE is based on fundamental project-based learning principles.

The integration of content is the key ingredient, in addition to the involvement of business and higher ed partners in the early stages of course development.  When done right, the courses are designed to address the needs of a specific industry while delivering standards-based instruction in a fluid, just-in-time manner.  And the students love it.

This fall, project teams have worked with General Mills to study how teens use their mobile phones,giving General Mills a guide to social media to develop brand loyalty among their teen market.  Another student project team is working with Habitat for Humanity to develop a youth outreach strategy.  Aspire Beverages is relying on a VANTAGE project team to identify a new flavor - including conducting market research and proposing market strategy.

While developing this program over the past two years, we spent a great deal of time traveling to Overland Park, KS where we were hosted by Donna Deeds at the Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) in Blue Valley Public Schools.  The CAPS model inspired our design team to dream big...and VANTAGE is the result.  Director Chris Pears and the VANTAGE team (Erik Sill, Brent Veninga, and Melissa Olson) have built a model that all school districts should watch closely.  These teachers are working extremely hard...but they're having the time of their lives!

True believers in the power of project-based learning will quickly see that this model is at the core of John Dewey's classic vision for education...engaged, relevant, student-centered learning.  Check out the website at www.tonkavantage.org and follow us on Twitter @TonkaVantage.

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