By Juan Cabrera
In El Paso, we focus on engaged and active learning. We serve our diverse bilingual population with hands-on project-based and technology-rich classrooms.
Active learning requires a shift from traditional, teacher-centered classrooms. Here are a few lessons learned as we shifted towards more engaged learning for all students:
1. Partners are important. We made the biggest and most transformative changes by partnering with the nonprofit New Tech Network. This nonprofit supports big blocks of integrated project-based learning as well as the creation of a positive student-centered school culture.
We started with two New Tech schools in 2015:
Each of the new schools will be academies located on the campus of a comprehensive high school. They are schools of choice with lottery-based enrollment.
This year we opened four more New Tech schools:
- New Tech Leadership Academy at Brown Middle School (new as of 2016)
- Oso New Tech at Bowie High School (new as of 2016)
- Panther New Tech at Austin High School (new as of 2016)
- Cobra Tech Academy at Canyon Hills Middle School (new as of 2016)
We are excited to announce that in the fall of 2017, the list of New Tech schools in EPISD will grow even more. The EPISD Young Women’s Academy will be the first New Tech single gender STEAM focused school in the country. We also will have a New Tech campus at Guillen Middle School.
2. The learning space really matters. Active learning requires students have an engaging and innovative space to learn in. Students should be excited about where they go to school. Some of the existing EPISD structures are now remodeled and we are rethinking our learning spaces. At Cobra New Tech at Canyon Hills Middle School, one of the newest New Tech Network additions in EPISD, the wing includes two large classrooms and one work conference room for targeted lessons. Upgrades include a double broadband network, whiteboards and media stations for group work. “Students will be able to use this media stations to work in groups within the classroom,” said Jayne Pynes, a social studies and ELA teacher at Cobra Tech Academy. “They can hook their laptops up to the station and work on anything from podcasts to project presentations.” Students also will have access to digital cameras and printers, among other technology, in addition to their own individual laptop computers.
3. Teachers are ready for change. Teachers want more innovative methods and models. They want to be excited about where they work. At Cougar New Tech in Franklin High School, teachers like Dan Leeser are able to design their own projects for students but also learn from and adapt projects from other New Tech Network teachers. He admits that the shift required him to take some risks, but that EPISD has approved of his lesson experimentation and supports this change.
As a staff, we are going to continue to learn and expand how we implement active learning across the district. Active learning is what our students want and need to be ready for whatever path they choose in their futures.