UPPER WEST SIDE — Noisy classrooms might be shunned at other schools, but at the Magnet School for Technology & Communication they're considered a good thing.
The buzz means students are following the school's new project-based learning philosophy, which often puts students to work brainstorming in teams. The noise level is one of many changes at the school since it won federal funding to become a magnet school, along with seven other District 3 schools.
The goal of the grant is to transform the schools, some of which have struggled with poor ratings by the Department of Education, by giving each one an innovative, themed curriculum that will attract more students and improve diversity.
At the Magnet School for Technology & Communication, formerly P.S. 145 on West 105th Street, the technology-themed curriculum means that tools like laptops, digital cameras and video-editing software are part of almost everything the students do, said Michael Luongo, a teacher and magnet-school specialist.
"The kids have an education here that's rigorous, exciting and fun," Luongo said. "Usually those things don't go together."
Kindergartners recently got an introduction to digital photography, first graders learned stop-motion animation, and fifth graders made their own video documentary about whether cell phones should be allowed in schools. For a recent unit on Louis Armstrong, students used Flip cameras to make a short documentary on Victrola record players and filmed themselves dancing to Armstrong's music.
"It's so much more exciting than what we normally would have done, which would have been writing, writing, writing, then listening to a song," Luongo said. "When students leave here, they can be producers, not just regurgitators."
In addition to integrating technology into lesson plans, the 445-student, pre-k to fifth-grade school on 105th Street is working with several nonprofit organizations that visit classrooms to reinforce the themed curriculum.
For example, a "teaching artist" from Studio in a School works with students on animation projects. Other partners include the New York Historical Society, the Learning About Multimedia Project, and Magic Box Productions.
The school recently received another grant to build a TV studio, and in two to three years the school wants to have its own student-produced news program — the Bloomingdale News Network — that will be streamed online, Luongo said.
The new tech-centric approach has energized the school community, said parent Deirdre Lapolla. "The kids are definitely excited about it and the parents are too," she said.
The new curriculum and interactive lessons have been beneficial to Lapolla's son John, a 10-year-old fourth grader with special needs. His class recently watched the Dr. Seuss film "The Lorax" as part of a lesson on John Muir and conservation, and John came home talking about how wild animals need their own places to live.
"This type of teaching works really well with him because it's a lot of visual learning," Lapolla said. "He's grasping the concepts more."
Lapolla said she hopes the themed curriculum attracts more families to the Magnet School for Technology & Communication, where enrollment numbers have lagged. School officials are confident the magnet grant will also help turn around the school's academic performance.
"The test scores we had as P.S. 145 were based on our old curriculum, and we're not P.S. 145 anymore," Luongo said. "It was nothing like what we're doing now. Our teaching methods were very different."
The magnet grant lasts three years, but the funding pays for teachers to take 60 hours of professional development each year — a way of making sure instructors will be able to sustain the new teaching methods even after the grant money runs out.
"It's not just a few years of fun projects. It's a permanent change," Luongo said.