Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Building Worlds to Change the World

Written By: Daniel Bess, AP Biology and Earth, Space, Science Facilitator

As a facilitator here at New Tech, we have many opportunities to work with learners in after school clubs - Community Service club, Red Cross club, America for Africa club, Astronomy club, Outdoor Adventure club, just to name a few. I happen to sponsor a group called “Table Top Games Club”. We are currently in the midst of a Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) campaign, and this has offered me a glimpse of the work our Dungeon Master (DM) has put into the fun we have every week after school.

A DM is the storyteller - they build the world, and the various quests, as well as paint vivid pictures of the actions that take place as a result of players’ choices and their luck in rolling dice to complete those actions. If you have ever played D&D, you know how exciting it can be to find yourself in another world, role playing, exploring, and tackling a crazy story line with your friends. The success or the failure of the experience lies heavily in your DM’s hands.

It may be an odd comparison, but I see so much of what I do as a Project Based facilitator emulated in the work that our DM puts into the experience. Did I mention that our DM is not me? One of our seniors has taken on this task.

The Goal
A DM first and foremost builds a world of characters and quests to challenge the party. The quest drives the adventurers forward with a goal. Just as a quest and all of its moving pieces are developed by our DM, we as facilitators develop real world problems and situations that will challenge our learners and drive the learning in our classrooms.

Example: To teach learners about bacterial, viral, and genetic diseases and their effect on cellular biology → Learners become med school students preparing to see patients during clinicals; they learn about these diseases through case studies with their med school supervisor (facilitator) - and finally they see a “patient/actor” expressing symptoms of a disease that they must: diagnose, come up with a treatment plan, and then teach the patient about the disease and what it is doing to their body.

Within our projects the learners can play the role of countless professionals: doctors, engineers, financial analysts, poets, a film cast and crew, or even game coders. We spend time crafting a story line and detailing requirements that the learners will have to meet in order to proficiently make it through our challenge.

Benchmarks and Collaboration
Most D&D campaigns have multiple bosses to be fought before meeting a final end game “mega-boss”. The goal of fighting these smaller bosses is so that the party can become accustomed to their skills, strengths, and weaknesses as well as understand how to work together to defeat something bigger and more powerful than themselves. When we as facilitators set up a project, we have a large end-game product in mind - a mega-boss if you will, but we try to break this down into smaller pieces before they take on the whole in a final presentation or performance assessment. At New Tech we call this benchmarking.

Example: In the doctor project, learners create a cell model as a cell biology benchmark that they would then use to model how the disease changes the working of cells to the patients in their clinical role play. The learners also have to pass their med school exams before they are allowed to see patients.

This allows facilitators to check understandings along the way, but just as in D&D, this allows learners to figure out how to work together and manage the group’s time effectively for a large assignment that may have been difficult to complete alone. No matter how many times learners have gone through group projects at our school, they realize that no group will be the same and that each group requires a different touch depending on the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of all involved.

Guided Freedom of Choice and Improvisation
D&D players can make any decision and perform almost any action. The DM must be prepared to improvise and must be willing to take the story wherever the characters lead it. That is not to say that they have no control over the situation - they tend to drop fairly obvious clues as to what the party should do next in their quest and they can easily create characters or situations that prevent the party from advancing down certain rabbit trails. This to me is one of the greatest strengths of learning and teaching through PBL. The learners lead the process of learning by asking questions and seeking knowledge in the directions they believe will help them accomplish the task. These questions absolutely go beyond the scope of what I need to teach them!

Example: In the doctor project learners inevitably ask questions about diseases outside of the case studies the facilitator prepared. They see connections between all genetic diseases - how they are similar and how they are not - the same goes for bacterial and viral diseases.

If their questions are not deep enough, it is easy to facilitate a discussion that helps them see that the current level of understanding is insufficient. Learners can take their explorations to a much deeper level when we don’t pre-ordain the extent of knowledge they should experience.

To clear up the next question I know many might be thinking: “How do you teach it once they ask for it?” In the end, the ways in which I teach content after learners have requested it is not entirely different from what I did in a traditional school: Inquiry Labs, lectures, videos, hands-on-activities; and YES I still assess my learners with quizzes and tests. As a PBL facilitator, it is the way that we frame and build purpose into our content that allows me to see myself as a Dungeon Master of sorts; taking learners down a path that challenges them, requires them to problem solve, and ultimately leads to a passion for their work.

Project Based Learning vs. Traditional Education
A personal note for those of you wondering if this is a good fit for your child: I came from a traditional school with 6 years of experience before moving to New Tech where I have been for the last 2 years. Does PBL fit your child? - Possibly, but not certainly! PBL may NOT be the perfect fit for every learner; there are those that struggle with the increased freedom and expectations that are afforded by this school just as there are those that thrive - I strongly encourage you and your child to reach out, ask questions, and take a closer look at what New Tech has to offer!  I will leave you with these 3 key things which I have found are benefits to the PBL Process:

  1. Recall of information: If the learner sees no reason to learn content other than a grade, memorization tends to become the default and information is lost more easily. Being able to connect information to a project and an overarching “why am I learning this” has been pivotal to making it stick.
  2. Motivation - A different effect but the same cause as above: Some learners who might have struggled to stay excited about their learning come here and excel because there is a purposeful project driving it all.
  3. Life Skills - So much more is learned here than just content because we expect it and we grade it - we facilitate how to work collaboratively; how to grow and self advocate; how to orally present to a group of professionals or peers; how to write. These things are assessed in EVERY class at New Tech.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Project Spotlight: Quinceañera Expo

Written by Norrie Brassfield, Spanish Facilitator

“I liked that I had the ability to actually have a conversation with a native Spanish speaker at the mall and the Expo.”  

“ I really liked creating the dress, and seeing how the entire theme came together. Seeing that all our hard work paid off, made everything worth it. Especially winning the dress competition.”

“I liked how it was very real world learning. That we applied the Spanish we learned to the real world.”

These are just a few of the reflections after the Quinceañera Expo recently held by the Spanish 2 classes.  Groups were organized into event planning companies to create booths for the Expo that would present ideas and options for venues, catering, flowers, transportation, music, entertainment, dresses, accessories and gifts for a Quinceañera.

While researching this coming of age tradition learners began to understand the religious and cultural significance of this event in the lives of their peers and also discovered that Quinceañeras have become a multi-billion dollar industry in the United States. To create authenticity, each group presented their information to Spanish-speaking parents and community members who acted as evaluators during the Expo.  

Learners used their various talents to express their creativity at the Expo.  Some designed and created recyclable dresses for the Quinceañera fashion show. Others choreographed and taught their classmates a traditional waltz, crafted invitations or created menus and sample foods for the special event.


One of the highlights of the project was the day spent at La Gran Plaza Mall in Fort Worth where they practiced speaking Spanish in a real world setting interacting with shopkeepers to gather information about prices and options for their Expo.  


Trying to speak Spanish outside the walls of the classroom gave the learners new perspectives and built their confidence and willingness to take risks in the target language.  When asked about her experience at the mall, one learner said,  “I learned that it's okay to branch out and try to speak in a different language because if you never try you'll never improve. I also learned that the Mexican culture is very different from American.”  

Another learner observed, “During this field trip I learned how to better understand what people are saying. For example, if you miss a word, figure it out with context clues. Don’t get stuck on it, otherwise you will miss everything else they say. I also learned how to order food in Spanish.  I was worried at first but it was really easy.  My favorite thing is that when I spoke I spoke pretty well and I realized that it was not so hard.”  

The field trip immersed learners in an environment where they challenged themselves to speak while giving them an authentic opportunity for research and learning about culture.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Being a Learner During an Election Season

By Mr. Hussey, American Studies (US History) Facilitator 

Macintosh HD:Users:bhussey:Desktop:Screen Shot 2016-11-04 at 11.05.30 AM.pngFor a myriad of reasons, the 2016 election has captured the interest and passions of the nation. If one follows the expansive coverage of it on social media, television, or radio, they will soon encounter commentators using a style of combative, polarizing, and absolutist rhetoric that impels readers and listeners to take a stand. For high school learners closely following their first election, this type of rhetoric can be difficult to navigate. Young people have been thrown into this unique political moment, and tasked with not only their understanding of elections and politics, but also the social act of “talking politics.” Learners, however, are resilient, and throughout this election they have found ways to express themselves.

Three New Tech High @ Coppell juniors shared their reflections on what it is like to be a learner during the 2016 election.

Carson Winnecker

This election is arguably the most controversial election in US history. Due to that fact, civilized conversation has proven very hard to come by. People seem to be motivated by emotion rather than logic and reason. I do wish that more people were open about their beliefs, and that they would respect the beliefs of others. Additionally, people seem to be dangerously uninformed or ignorant about both candidates. I believe that the mainstream media and people’s arrogance are to blame, as they are essentially forced to take a side in every issue. With ignorance, it makes it increasingly difficult to have a genuine political discussion. I’m opposed to simply yelling your own political agenda at the other side of the spectrum and expecting them to change to agree with you. I’ve always sought after purposeful discussions on why people feel the way they do.
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During this election, I have not tried to talk about specific politicians with other classmates and facilitators as much I have focused political satire. I feel that most people at NTH@C would be open to a strictly policy discussion. As for the future of politics, this election should exemplify that our political system is structurally frustrating, to say the least. Both candidates have a substantial amount of controversy behind them and have extremely high public disapproval ratings. I honestly don’t know what path is right to take for American politics, but we can’t just sit around and let history repeat itself. We have to change for the better, and we can’t wait much longer than we already have.

Rebecca Carroll

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As a young-adult with a well-developed understanding of my political views, I’ve never had an issue with expressing my thoughts and opinions. However, I’ve found myself surrounded by controversy during this election cycle. Among my peers, my views about this election are considerably unwelcome. Though conversations in the classroom remain fairly civilized, I’ve realized that once we begin to discuss the election on our own time, educational and productive conversation is difficult to have. Though many people strongly believe in individual rights, whenever I exercise my rights to express differing opinions I’m met with backlash. Though I work not to offend others while discussing politics, I will not compromise my beliefs in order to avoid offending others. No one has the right not to be offended. This being said, even as an outspoken individual with a developed understanding of my political beliefs, I still find myself avoiding specific issues for fear of being verbally abused because of my unpopular opinions.

Brianna Lee

It has been somewhat difficult to talk about the election at school. This election is unique in the way that people are extremely partisan, and so trying to talk with a person who is a supporter of the other candidate results in less “talking” and more “arguing.” I admit to being very vocal and stubborn with my beliefs and when I find a person like myself who doesn’t agree with me, it’s like an unstoppable force meeting an immovable object.

Macintosh HD:Users:bhussey:Desktop:Screen Shot 2016-11-04 at 11.04.31 AM.pngIt’s because of this high tension between parties that most students will shut down their peers when they bring up the election. Even mentioning the candidate’s names during class results in at least three students saying “Okay, guys, let’s not talk about this.” I can appreciate this when people want to work, but sometimes it feels like no one cares enough about this historic event that we are living through. No one seems to watch the debates, and when they do, they just complain about having to watch it in the first place because their family made them. The best discussions I’ve had over this topic have been with my current events teacher and history teacher. While they were enlightening discussions, I want to have as deep of conversations with people my own age. I want to know how much my generation knows of different important subjects because some of these subjects will affect us greatly in our future. People don’t seem to understand that this election, and current politics in general, will affect us the most. If we don’t get involved, we won’t have any say in our future, and that can end up really, really bad.
Macintosh HD:Users:bhussey:Desktop:Screen Shot 2016-11-04 at 10.56.18 AM.pngI think that the projects we’ve done so far in history and in current events has helped create a possibility where people like me, who love to debate, can have the opportunity to stay informed on both sides of this election. I have gained more understanding for the opposing side and empathy towards their supporters. So, while there isn’t much of a community in the student body in regards to politics, I do feel like my school has made a welcome environment and opportunities for discussions on the election.

Information about the pictures:

Learners worked in groups to design, create, and deliver presentations about the 2016 presidential election including information on the candidates, party system, and electoral college. Each group also used the study of presidential elections from the Gilded Age as a lens to interpret the current election.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Senior vs Facilitator Games: Culture Through Competition

Senior-Facilitator Games at NTH@C

By Luke Armstrong, Emily Petty, and Zane Porter

Texas is known for football and Friday Night Lights. The players and coaches prepare for the weekly battle and the cheerleaders, bands, students, parents, and fans ready themselves to cheer on their team and occasionally talk trash to (and about) the opposing team.
New Tech High @ Coppell has a tradition of encouraging the senior class and the facilitators to field teams for multiple athletic events throughout the year. The senior class is responsible for planning and getting approval for the games. Last Wednesday, the games began with the first of many competitions—football. While the game is seven-on-seven, one-hand touch football, the game is no less intense than tackle football and requires passionate, athletic play. The facilitators got the best of the seniors this year, but that only motivates the seniors to work together to try and beat the facilitators in the basketball game this December.
Facilitators see the games as an opportunity to build culture and camaraderie with the learners, but also see room for the games to grow into something that incorporates more learners and facilitators. Sophomore facilitator and interception extraordinaire, Clay Greenwalt, explains that the games are “something that is unique, something that not many schools do, but it builds camaraderie through sports that we don’t really have at our school.”  He goes on to explain how the games are “a bonding experience that helps bridge the gap between facilitators and learners that we wouldn’t get another way...having memories to look back on and build positive memories to point to.”
One of the facilitator quarterbacks, Brian Hussey, believes that the games “give a lasting memory of high school for the seniors. It emphasizes relationships between the learners and facilitators that allow us to compete together without the hierarchical, facilitator to learner dynamic.” The learners feel empowered when they are able to look back on their relationship with their facilitators as one of learning, growing, and competing without the burden of the traditional learner-to-facilitator separation.

Learner’s Perspective

By Emily Petty

To put it simply, the NTH@C Class of 2017 does things differently. We have always taken the rules given to us and morphed them to fit what we want them to say. The senior-facilitator football game is no exception.
In the past, the game has just been a football game with no other learner roles. This year, however, we were able to incorporate a wider variety of learners by adding different roles like cheerleading. I enjoyed being able to help add this aspect to the game and had fun involving my peers.
As cheerleaders, we were able to create cheers and posters that encouraged the players and made the game more exciting. Despite the expected senior loss, the seniors were able to come together and bond over a shared experience and goal.
The senior-facilitator games are an opportunity for us to grow as a class and to help build our school’s culture. We want to continue a valuable tradition, and hopefully, gain some bragging rights over the facilitators.

Learner’s Perspective

By Luke Armstrong

As head coach, I felt like I took some responsibility for my players. I wanted to make sure that everyone got to play and that no one walked away feeling like they weren’t a part of the team. I could immediately feel the energy from each and every player. We all had a strong desire to win on Wednesday, so I did my best to harness that energy and performance into a fun time with a win.
Though we did not win, I know we enjoyed it and felt like we really left our mark. For most of the process, I had a surreal feeling that it was finally our turn to play the facilitators. We all had a great time getting ready for the game and thinking of things we could do that would be fun for all of us, regardless of if we won the game.

So what are the next steps for the senior-facilitator games?

Emily Petty worked hard to add more seniors to the activities by including cheerleaders, and Rachel Printz and Trent Holland found their place as the play-by-play announcers. During the game, they referenced Mr. Greenwalt’s Membean obsession and Ms. Bence’s Zumba classes (although, she teaches yoga).
When asked about how the games could be improved, Spanish facilitator, Caroline Daniel, said, “It would be nice to have some academic games to go along with the athletic events.” She goes on to say that the senior-facilitator games “are a valuable tradition, and we could guide the seniors to include more learners through a wider variety of activities.” Math facilitator, Anthony Hufford added that “the games are good and valuable,” and he asked “How could we involve those learners who are not athletic? We could include an academic decathlon or some sort of other academic game.”

At New Tech High @ Coppell, we are invested in the process of learning and growing. We understand that part of the learning process is building quality relationships and creating authentic, real-world products. This means that we need to constantly reassess and revise our work in order to keep what is valuable and reconsider what might become better with revision or possibly need removed.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Punkin' Chunkin': Learning in the Classroom and Teaching in the Community

The fall season captivates us:  cooler temperatures, falling leaves, shorter days, and flying pumpkins. Well, maybe flying pumpkins aren’t the norm everywhere but on the New Tech High @ Coppell campus, this season elicits the excitement that partners with the physics legacy project Punkin’ Chunkin’.

NTH@C hosts a Fall Festival each year highlighting the launch of pumpkins across the school’s back lawn. Punkin’ Chunkin’ is a project in which the learners choose to create a trebuchet or a catapult that will launch a pumpkin a predetermined distance and land in a 55 gallon bucket. Learners must stay within a specific budget, show mathematical understanding of the angular launch, and actually build the catapult or trebuchet.

At New Tech, learners aren’t told what they have to learn - they are dropped into projects that make them ask for content. In this project, learners request workshops from their facilitator, Mr. Hesse, about mathematics, design, and construction in order to create these pumpkin launchers.

During the planning phase of their designs, they watch videos introducing them to vectors, which leads to a class discussion connecting vectors to mechanics. In projects like these, learning leads to more questions: “To throw the payload as far as possible, how long should the beam be? Where should the pivot point be on the beam? How high off the ground should the pivot be? How heavy should the counterweight be?” This is just a sampling of what you will hear on any given day during punkin’ chunkin’ season.

After the learners have received the information they’ve asked for, they return to designing digital 3-D models of their machines with their catapult-building group members. Once the learners have conceptually constructed their design including a dimensions and parts list, they begin working on the creation of their pumpkin launcher (either a trebuchet or a catapult).

The Fall Festival gives the Coppell community a chance to see the final products in action.  Along with all the gourd-flinging fun, the fall festival also offers plenty of kid-friendly carnival games as well as food and drink for sale.  Admission is free, food and game tickets are a quarter each, and all proceeds will go to support our learner-selected New Tech Gives Back partner organization, Texas Trees Foundation.

We invite you and your family for some NTH@C fun on Thursday, October 27 from 5:00-7:00pm.  It isn’t really fall until you’ve seen some Punkin’ Chunkin’!

By Facilitators: Brock Hesse, Brandy Osterberger, and Kolby Kerr

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Design Your Future: Senior Capstone Projects

Recently, one of our graduates was mentioned in an article about a local company called Gemmy that is bringing innovation to our community. You can see the article at

Or here: 

After reading it, I was reminded that we have learners every year who are able to go off to college or careers with a vast toolbox for success. Senior Capstone Projects hone skills and knowledge while also allowing our learners to make an impact on the world. The professionalism that our learners demonstrate in the process and come to embody is heavily embedded in our system. Read below for thoughts about the benefit of Capstone and an overview of the process. 

A short interview about the benefits of Capstone:

With Malcolm Smith, NTH@C graduate and current Gemmy employee

Q1: Can you think of a project/class that directly helped you with what you are doing at Gemmy?

A1: I don’t think any one class or project can be credited for what I am doing at Gemmy. It was the overall work ethic New Tech taught me. From working in teams to managing my time, the overall ideology of how New Tech teaches has been my greatest take-away from the school.

Q2: How did the Capstone process translate into post high school success?

#2- My capstone was an ambitious, long term project that required me to learn a completely new skill (coding, I made a video game). I had to utilize my graphic design and animations methods I already knew while applying that to the new code methodology I was learning. It wasn’t an easy task, and literally took me over 8 months to do. This taught me to be dedicated to one large project (which is still being worked on today, the game is set to release on Xbox One in early 2017). On top of learning coding, what really sold the deal was my ability to market my game once completed. I had to pitch and prove the quality of the game in order to sell it on Steam. This was through their “Greenlight” program. I later took what I had learned from that experience, and applied it to my pitch to Microsoft to get the game on Xbox One.
I think overall the capstone was a great method to teach me new skills, while also using what I already knew to create one grand product. I apply this to every project I take up both at work and personal. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and great things need time.

What is Capstone?

One of the features of a New Tech High @ Coppell education that makes it unique to other school experiences is that all of our learners are required to participate in a capstone project their senior year. The Senior Capstone Project is an opportunity for learners to showcase the growth that they have experienced at New Tech by designing and completing a project of their very own. Successful completion of this comprehensive project communicates that learners are ready to move on to postsecondary education or a career.  Learners create a project that is unique to them and their passions, interests, or future career choice. The project is meant to show the learner's readiness to move on from high school--a crucial element of this readiness is their ability to manage time, meet benchmarks and work independently.

The project is meant to showcase the learner's ability to apply academic learning in real contexts, therefore projects should have some connection to an academic discipline (e.g. Biology, History, Accounting, Marketing, etc.).  The Research Component will demand that learners go beyond high school level depth in a specific field (or fields) of study.  In completing this component, the learner will prove that they are willing and able to seek out and master new knowledge and thinking beyond course requirements.

Once the learner has completed the Research Component, they are ready to tackle the heart of the Capstone Project--the product itself.  Like projects at NTH@C, we expect learners to create a tangible application of their knowledge and thinking that contributes to a real community.  We want them to ask the questions: What does my area of study look like in the real world?  We want to know if they can move from knowing about something to doing something.
At the completion of the project, learners present their products to business, school and community leaders. Various learners have found their passions and future careers through this process and it is one of the aspects of our learning community that empowers our learners to tackle their future and change their world.


Friday, October 7, 2016

Networking Olympics: Creating Family and Building A Positive School Culture

For the last couple of years, New Tech High @ Coppell has held various Wonderful Wednesday events that promote a positive school culture and build a sense of family and shared community. Our campus is split into 20+ teams of learners that are comprised of learners 9-12. The learners choose their own team names, design a t-shirt and develop their own chants/cheers or other methods of group affiliation.

Days like this are important to our school because our school doesn't offer traditional forms of involvement like band, choir, athletics, etc. Our learners are able to participate in those things by busing to the larger high school campus, but it is also important for us to have a shared identity around school events.

Networking Olympics took place on September 21st and as the new principal of the campus, I feel that I really got to see what makes this place home. The day began with an opening ceremony followed by the playing of various athletic (think big kid field day) and intellectual (think digital trivia) games, and concluded with a closing ceremony. Awards were given for overall score and the most spirited.

As the rookie principal, I felt like this was the day that I really became one of the team. Whether it was leading the school in cheering or getting to watch the various competitions, you can't help but feel like you are a part of something greater than just yourself. We are a community of learners and we are going to laugh together, learn together, and push each other to be better every day.

By Steffany Batik, Principal of NTH@C

The Learner's Perspective:

The New Tech Olympics is designed to create a solid foundation of relationships within each networking at the beginning of the school year. It immerses the grade levels and gets our freshmen (we call them rookies) acquainted with the quirky traditions of New Tech.

Speaking from a learner’s perspective there is nothing about this day that isn’t purely thrilling. Starting the opening ceremony with a “hype” video and ending the day with awards means there is always something to look forward to. Throughout the day each group of networks goes to seven different stations and “battles” against three to four other networks. Networking Team Captains put their own twist on a series of classic games; learners love anticipating their old favorite games while at the same time getting to experience something new to keep them on their toes.

Speaking from a planner’s perspective it is at least 6 weeks of rigorous planning that leads up to a day of pure success and fulfillment. I have planned the Olympics for the past three years and am honored that I got to be a part of this exciting tradition. Networking Team Captains are constantly learning and improving the Olympics every year as well as bonding with different learners.

New Tech as a school community is all about bonding, traditions and working together. The Olympics brings that mindset to the rookies, and reminds the rest of us why we choose to learn at New Tech High @ Coppell.

By Bella Platamone, NTH@C Senior