Friday, August 26, 2016

Empowering Learners with First Week Projects

At New Tech High @ Coppell, the school year begins with a sort of induction period for our learners. During this time, learners are put in grade level groups for first week projects and they also spend time in what will become their networking groups for the year. Networking groups are comprised of students from all grade levels and help to create the unique family atmosphere that exists at NTH@C. This week's blog spotlight is about our first week projects from two perspectives. Next week, we will feature some of our seniors and their community partner projects.

The Facilitator Perspective

by Mr. Kolby Kerr, Senior English Facilitator, NTH@C

Senior year is special—it’s the year when it’s finally all about you.  At NTH@C, learners hear a different message.  During the first three days of school, learners participate in a first week project before diving into their content courses.  It’s a way to re-engage in our project-based process and start the year by making a real impact in the community.
The senior first week project challenges learners to propose partners for our school-wide New Tech Gives Back program.  Every year, New Tech learners raise thousands of dollars and work thousands of service hours to help organizations that are working to transform our community and our world. We have freed child slaves in Ghana, aided local families fleeing from domestic violence, empowered Coppell Special Olympians, built a home for a Dallas family in need, and more.  And every year that partnership starts with a group of passionate seniors.
I’ve watched every group of seniors for the past seven years work through this project. They’ve debated with each other the merits of one nonprofit over another, dug through public tax filings to validate the credibility of organizations, then deliver polished and persuasive presentations that articulate sound arguments, connect with audiences, and cast a vision for the school’s involvement. But more than all this work, I’ve watched as young men and women struggle with the tough questions of this project:  What makes an organization worthy of our investment?  How can our whole school become true partners to effect change?  What kind of legacy do we want to leave on this school?
It’s that last question that makes this project so profound.  They are seniors--they are supposed to be focused on football Fridays and college applications, on prom dresses, tuxedo rentals, and caps and gowns.  But instead, from the first day of school, NTH@C seniors are being challenged to think about others.  
Senior year is special here at NTH@C because learners have the opportunity to shape their legacy. They don’t wait to be told at graduation to go out and change the world—they are doing it now.

The Administrator Perspective

by Ms. Steffany Batik, Principal, NTH@C

I am the principal of a small high school and for the first three days of the school year, I was able to walk around the campus, visit classrooms, and chat with both learners and facilitators. Some of this talk was the usual catching up after a summer and some of this was related directly to the goals of our first week projects. The first week projects are a way to get our rookie learners acclimated to the school and to project based learning, but they are also a way to refine the process for our upperclass learners as well. Through the process, learners get to know various facilitators, classmates, and more about themselves because of the way the lessons have been designed.

It is difficult to put into words the low hum of creativity and energy that exists in my school for the first three days. Instead of a dry rundown of a syllabus, learners are developing skills they will need to be successful during the school year and in life. The work of the first week projects culminates in both the creation of a product and a presentation. Some of the products are designed for use throughout the school year by individual learners and the presentations provide a way for learners to be held accountable for their learning while also making the process an interpersonal construction of collective knowledge.

Here is a list of the first week projects by grade level:
Rookies: "I am New Tech" project focuses on self awareness and self assessment. Learners create a time capsule to be opened senior year and also learn pieces of the New Tech culture and climate.

Sophomores: Time Management project focuses on learners developing a tool kit for personal use and a project to share strategies with other learners about how to organize, calendar, and other executive function skills for success.

Juniors: College and Career Readiness including research about colleges, interest inventories to identify careers, and holding a college/career fair in class.

Seniors: New Tech Gives Back research and presentations are developed by groups of seniors to help our school select a charity organization for the year that we partner with and help raise money for. Seniors are graded on a rubric and the top presentations are then voted on.