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Incorporating Real-World Models into Project-Based High School Instruction

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Our group objective is to optimize our understanding of the various types of project-based work in the professional world and then to evolve strategies for guiding students in honing their own projects. We explored and observed project-based high schools and a cross-section of “real-world” professional environments that regularly specialize in project-based outcomes.

Incorporating Real-World Models into Project-based High School Instruction


Los Angeles Big Picture High School formally known as Film & Theatre Arts Charter High School is a relatively high-performing high school in its 6th year running the Big Picture Learning model.  Our group embarked in this journey to optimize the staff’s understanding of the various types of project-based work in the professional world and then to evolve strategies for guiding students in honing their own projects. The team objectives were to study a cross-section of “real-world” working environments that regularly specialize in project-based outcomes.  These sites, largely culled from existing network of student internship locations, cover the spectrum of project forms and trajectories, from “highly collaborative” workplaces (such as engineering and architectural firms) to individual businesses and artists’ studios.  The team also studied other project-based high schools, focusing specifically on different strategies for implementing project-based outcomes and performance-based assessments.

Team Davis Poster Presentation at TIIP Annual Meeting

Team Bio/ Information:

Team Leader, Jessica Davis received her Bachelors degree in Environmental Studies from Pitzer College, and a Masters in Education from Claremont Graduate University.  When a high school teacher helped her to become the first member of her family to attend college, Jessica realized that she wanted to become a teacher. Although she dreamt of teaching middle school, she was drawn to work at Los Angeles Big Picture High School in South Central because of the incredible project-based model they employ.  It quickly became apparent that through a real-world and Advisory based curriculum she would have the best possible opportunity of helping students succeed. Currently, she hopes to continue to define key practices in authentic, project-based learning.


Team Members:

Steve Bachrach: Right out of grade school and seemingly on-course for a career in filmmaking of which he’d long dreamed, Steve Bachrach suddenly found himself volunteering at South-Central Los Angeles’ Jefferson High when a friend on the staff asked him to assist motivated Juniors with their college plans.  Improbably enough, this “favor” turned into a 10-year (mostly) love affair with the kids, the school, the neighborhood, and teaching filmmaking in the inner-city.  In 2006, Steve became founding Principal of Film and Theatre Arts Charter High School, which blended an arts-flavored college prep education with student-directed project-based learning in the international Big Picture Learning model.  When not at school, Steve enjoys traveling, bicycling, gardening, and cooking up improbable new schemes to spring on his staff.


Yadira Funes, raised in South Central Los Angeles, became aware of the inequities at low-performing high schools when she entered UC Santa Cruz (UCSC).  After a summer tutoring job she decided to improve her community by becoming a math teacher. She earned a Bachelors degree in Mathematics at UCSC and a teaching credential from California State University of Los Angeles. Eager to return to her community and empower youth, she discovered that change could not be possible in the traditional education system. She became part of a movement of teachers at Jefferson High School who were dedicated to student learning, thus discovering the Big Picture Learning model and became a co-founder and teacher at Film & Theatre Arts Charter High School.


Marlem Landa, after graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School’s Film & Theatre Arts Academy in 2001, attended Hampshire College in Amherst, MA as a James Baldwin Scholar. After living for five years in Amherst, MA, she moved back to South Central Los Angeles to work at Film & Theatre Arts Charter High School as a Development and Community Relations Coordinator. Her passion to strive for social change and empowerment drives her efforts to encourage youth to pursue higher education and use authentic practices in project-based learning.

Nicole Nicodemus: this bio is forthcoming.

School Information

Los Angeles Big Picture is an innovative college preparatory public high school situated in downtown Los Angeles.   Using the Big Picture Learning model of personalized, real world centered education, we empower our students to acquire as much knowledge and wisdom as possible to set and attain ambitious goals for themselves. We are a community of students, parents, teachers, administrators, and staff united around seeking out new challenges, supporting each other, and making a difference in Los Angeles and the world.

Mission Statement:

Los Angeles Big Picture High School is a college preparatory high school that seeks to prepare students for adulthood and beyond, including college/university study and successful entry into the workforce.


Please click on the following links to read more about our research, process, findings, and products:

Math and Science Investigation

Promoting and Recruiting for Project Based Schools

Project Based Businesses

Project Based Schools

Sample Student Products of Project Based Learning

Key Practices for Project Based Learning Environments

TIIP Team Davis Project Based Resources and Inspirations

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