K. Smith "In The News"

Project-based learning is one of the best ways to teach students 21st century skills. It promotes deeper engagement in the content while also teaching skills such as communication, collaboration and teamwork. But a good PBL program only works if the school or district invests in targeted, sustained professional development.

Our school, Katherine Smith Elementary School in California adopted a PBL program six years ago. It was a massive overhaul for us. The program focuses on six principles: Think, Learn, Work, Communicate, Collaborate and Contribute. [Read more]

Projects are an easy way to engage students in authentic challenges but delivering all of possible benefits requires well constructed, sustained and supported experiences. Earlier this year, a new Framework for High Quality Project Based Learning (HQPBL) was developed to help teachers better prepare young people for contribution in the innovation economy.

As we look back, it is evident that project-based learning not only increases student engagement, it helps students develop academic and social and emotional skills for life and careers.

Over the year, we visited 8 schools where students are having HQPBL experiences, here is what we discovered:

HQPBL Case Study: Katherine Smith School. Over seven years ago, Aaron Brengard came to serve as principal of Katherine Smith Elementary, a 55-year-old Title I school within San Jose's Evergreen School District. Despite its location in Silicon Valley, the school seemed a world apart from the region recognized globally for entrepreneurship and innovation.

From the very beginning of his tenure, Brengard championed a school redesign that would better prepare students for the real world. The lessons learned from this journey toward High Quality Project Based Learning (HQPBL) remain relevant, as they could potentially be applied to public schools across America (Read Case Study).

We visited more than 100 schools this year. About half were new schools (in the last 20 years) and the other half were (at least partially) transformed. Most are good early next-gen examples of personalized and competency-based learning. They were in every corner of the country and ranged from tiny rural schools in Idaho to big schools in Chicago (and a few in Europe and Asia). As a year-end reflection, we identified 10 lessons. [read more]

Students at Katherine R. Smith Elementary school in San Jose are using class projects to show they're "Ready for Anything."

An exhibition by the same name has taken on a special meaning in the wake of California's devastating wildfires. [read more]

Seven miles south of downtown San Jose are some of the lowest income neighborhoods in the Bay Area. Three schools serving this diverse area of the Evergreen School District (@EvergreenESD) combine personalized and project-based learning to succeed in high school, college and work.

Members of the New Tech Network, Bulldog Tech, Lobo School of Innovation, and Katherine Smith Elementary School are bright spots for families and students in San Jose that may not otherwise have access to technology, integrated challenges, and strong supports. [read more]

We wanted to truly prepare students for this ever-changing world. We wanted them to have the skills and habits to open every door for college a career success." [read more]

As they walk around their school, Katherine Smith students are constantly reminded that they are expected to work hard and succeed. Katherine Smith Elementary School, a Title I School in San Jose, CA with 82% of students on free or reduced lunch and 61% of students learning English as a second language, has adopted the motto, "We are college bound." Within the past few years, they have completely reimagined their curriculum with a focus on project-based learning (PBL) in order to prepare students with the skills they will need to succeed in college and in life. [read more]

November 9, 2016 - Developing Systems to Transition from Implementation to Improvement Katherine Smith Elementary is a diverse TK - 6th grade elementary school located within the Evergreen School District in San Jose, California. With an enrollment of over 600 students and 30 teaching staff, Katherine Smith joined the New Tech Network 3 years ago seeking additional support for their transformation into a school... [read more]

June 14, 2016 - Educators across the nation have been realizing the potential for powerful deeper learning when project-based learning (PBL) is employed. We have witnessed schools that are wall-to-wall with projects, blended classrooms engaging in PBL and organizations that are helping to create high leverage engagement opportunities for all students. [read more]

May 17, 2016 - There's always a team member that doesn't pull their weight. In economics this is called a free rider problem—people who benefit from resources they don't pay for. Wharton professor and author of Originals Adam Grant (building on an old meta analysis by Karau and Williams identified a series of factors that encourage people to contribute their fair share. [read more]

May 4, 2016 - Assistive and accessible technology can help students with special needs overcome a wide variety of challenges. Nonverbal students can communicate using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) technology; students with physical disabilities can take advantage of special keyboards and monitors; and the accessibility features of iPads and Google Apps for Education can helps students with learning disabilities or other challenges. Although some tech-savvy teachers are confident figuring out these technologies on their own, many others need training on how to implement assistive and accessible technology effectively to benefit their students. [read more]

April 21, 2016 - I listen to a table of 10th grade World Studies students take turns explaining how women are affected by the lack of access to education in underdeveloped countries. One girl, listening intently, speaks up and asks "Why aren't they allowed to go to school when our research shows that education actually raises the incomes of families?" The rest of her group pauses and looks at me. I repeat her question and reply, "I wonder if that has a simple answer? Go add that to the project wall questions. The rest of you make a list of other questions that this initial research brings up." [read more]

February 24, 2016 - Aaron Brengard is re-imagining education. A teacher for more than 15 years, Brengard became the leader of Katherine Smith Elementary three years ago with one goal in mind: Every teacher and staff member would unite in the belief that every child should be ready for college and career. [read more]

01/29/2016 - Once again, significant federal change is afoot within U.S. education. The recent signing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) marks a significant shift away from tight national accountability to greater state-level systems of student outcomes measurement and assessments. Coinciding with this policy shift is the emergence of innovative school models recently showcased at the White House Next Gen High School Summit. This could be a pivotal time for significant education transformation. [read more]

December 10, 2015 - "Every time we cross this line we set goals for ourselves," that's a 4th grader's response to the question of why the words "College Bound" were written on the ground at the entrance to Katherine Smith School. This 4th grader was one of a handful of impressive students that guided our recent tour of the school. (See goal setting line behind principal Principal Aaron Brengard.) [read more]

November 2015 - "Four forward. Turn left. Three forward. Turn right. Ready? Go!" When you enter the K. Smith Elementary School Family Code Faire, this is what you might hear. No, we're not playing hide-n-seek. We're coding. [read more]


AUGUST 06, 2015 - New Tech Network (NTN) announced at the New Tech Network Annual Conference (NTAC) in Chicago, Illinois, that teachers from Katherine Smith Elementary School in the Evergreen School District in San Jose, CA, were awarded the "Best In Network" award for outstanding original curriculum in their project-based learning (PBL) class. This was the first time elementary school teachers have received the "Best In Network" award. [read more]

January 19, 2015 - Rehearsals complete. Doors open. A packed room of guests in their seats. It was time for the big performance. The kindergarten class at Katherine Smith School had just completed its first project of the year, and it was exhibition night. In groups of five, kindergartners stood up and orally shared a portion of the findings from a recent project called "Stray, Stray, Go Away." [read more]

June 2015 - When Katherine Smith Elementary School launched a schoolwide redesign three years ago, we had to build a great deal from the ground up, including our technology. Our tech implementation was no fairy tale. Reinventing a school culture put a lot on our plate: establishing a new school culture of empowerment; designing engaging and rigorous projects; and infusing the $500,000 worth of new technology, including tablet carts, laptop computers carts, and interactive whiteboards. We might not have completed this journey without discovering an untapped resource to support teachers, integrate technology in classrooms, and encourage 21st century learning outcomes: the students. [read more]

Apr 12, 2015 - In an ever-changing world with ever-changing career possibilities, schools need to prepare students to take on any challenge. Equipping every student with the academic and social-emotional skills to think, learn, work, collaborate, communicate, and contribute now and throughout life requires a personalized approach. [read more]

April 9, 2015 - How Does Trust Create And Encourage 21st Century Leadership For Learning? Calling all classroom teachers, building managers, or district level administrators, we need you. 21st century learning schools need 21st century learning leaders. While I'm a school site principal, I use the word leader to describe everyone throughout the system from the classroom teacher to the district superintendent. There is one thing we all need...TRUST. [read more]

A leading elementary school in the PBL-driven New Tech Network, Katherine Smith School is a neighborhood school with a majority Hispanic population, generational poverty, and numerous challenges. However dedicated leadership and a committed staff have transformed the school... [read more]

FEBRUARY 25, 2015 - (Calif.) Discipline policies, respect for adults on campus and career pathway guidance are among the issues most often ranked as "unfavorable" by the nation's K-12 students – nearly a quarter-million of whom attend schools that use a sophisticated, real-time survey to analyze their input and improve learning conditions. [read more]

November 10, 2014 -In groups of three, student teams pushed their cardboard boats into the murky water and nervously worked together to row out to a deeper part of the lake. With each shifting movement the uncertainty showed on their faces as the cardboard and packing tape contraptions strained under the weight of the three amateur sailors. Students called out directions to one another to keep these team-designed boats afloat. Hundreds of other students from the school, along with local media, stood on the shore cheering every moment. [read more]

October 8, 2014 - Gov. Jerry Brown joined Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, and National Foundation for Governors' Fitness Councils chairman, Jake Steinfeld , for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open a brand new fitness center at Katherine Smith Elementary School in San Jose. The fitness center was awarded to the school by the National Foundation for Governors' Fitness Councils for demonstrating new and innovative ways to promote student physical activity. [Read more]

K. Smith School A 21st Century Learning Exemplar

  • 2025 Clarice Drive
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  • San Jose, CA 95122
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  • Phone: 408-270-6751
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  • Fax: 408-270-6877
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