Collaboration by Susan Heintz:
One of the take-aways I have from the time at New Tech is this: each project that is given to students in class is first brought to a review session of the entire faculty. The faculty of about 40 people is usually divided in two, so that two projects can be reviewed at once. The reviewers are from various departments. They hear about the project from those who wish to use it in their classrooms, giving feedback in the categories of “I like”, “I wonder”, and “Next steps”.
This struck me as incredibly valuable, rather than a teacher all on his/her own trying to imagine how a project would actually roll out in class. Remember, in this model, all learning comes through the process of completing the project. Other faculty members, in different departments with different strengths, would notice things and suggest ideas that might never occur to the actual teacher of the course. It seems to me this would enhance the project before it is even introduced, as well as preventing some of the inevitable errors in judgment that occur the first time a teacher uses something new.
In Critical Friends Groups here at St. Gregory we are working together to improve not just our own teaching, but all teaching in the school. Expanding on this commitment, I would hope we could adopt the above model for any project-based learning, as we have so much to learn from one another that can have a powerful impact on what we bring to our students.
Outside the Box by Linda Mount:
Our very quick trip to Dallas to observe New Tech High School had outcomes different from what I had expected. Choosing to focus on Project Based Learning rather than 1:1 laptop use, Tabitha Branum, the principal, leader, and “artistic director” of the school, shared her knowledge of, enthusiasm for, and commitment to this new 21st century way of learning using “real world” problems to entice students into becoming more involved and engaged in the process.
What it demands of the teachers (facilitators) is that they become expert designers of problems, questions, tasks that the students collaboratively explore and solve using technology (at their fingertips), creativity, innovation, and partnership. Interestingly, though it seems as if it would release teachers (facilitators) from their daily lesson plan preparations, in actuality, it requires teachers to become imaginative creators of interesting, authentic, and new problems and projects complete with entry documents, benchmarks, scaffolding, workshops, and outcomes. As a predominantly 20th century educator, I found myself inspired, energized, and thinking about next year outside my 20th century box. It was great fun!