NTO teachers take collaborative approach to learning

Teachers at George H.W. Bush New Tech Odessa use project-based learning with their students, but on Fridays, they put themselves on the line and present ideas for their lessons.

The presenting facilitator turns away from the group while their peers discuss the idea.

Their colleagues offer feedback on what they liked, what they wonder about and next steps for the project.

Principal Gerardo Ramirez said there are about 25 teachers at NTO and they all attend. Two or three teachers typically present in a morning.

Ramirez said NTO has followed a Critical Friends protocol since the school started 10 years ago. It comes through the New Tech Network that NTO is part of.

“I learned the protocol through a New Tech Network summer conference. It’s the standard protocol that New Tech schools use to critique projects. And you see how it’s safe. They get to share and the product itself becomes better when there’s a team around that gives feedback and support,” Ramirez said.

“… This year, I’ve been more intentional as we’re bouncing back to project-based learning after the craziness of last year to really make that a really big part of our … weekly routine,” he added.

The presentation Oct. 8 was formal. Sometimes Ramirez asks for volunteers and he’ll have a sign-up sheet. But teachers have mainly been open to offering presentations.

Teachers typically have a really good understanding of the framework of a project.

Before the presentations began, Ramirez said he tries to have the teachers go on walk-throughs every semester at about the midpoint to see what their colleagues are up to. Facilitators gave shout-outs on Twitter to the ones they thought did a particularly good job.

Ramirez said he gathered data from teachers about what they want to see more of and learn more about. They also submitted a survey to him and their instructional coach about topics they are struggling with that they may need more support with.

“Based on that, we’re going to build the rest of our semester adult learning around that now that the school year has been launched,” Ramirez said.

They will also say what “need to knows” they need help with. Need to knows also help guide students’ project-based learning, he said.

William Marsh, who is teaching Advanced Placement macroeconomics and sociology this semester, presented the idea of having student explore how technology is influencing deviant behavior, not just in teenagers but adults, as well.

Students would be working on a public service announcement and the project would probably take about three weeks.

Referring to the TikTok challenges that prompt some students to destroy school property or slap teachers, one facilitator said it shows that actions have consequences.

Marsh, who is in his sixth year at NTO, said the project-based learning sessions are very helpful.

“In previous school districts I’ve been at, we didn’t do stuff like this,” he said. “Ever since I’ve been here in New Tech, I actually really liked it because it gives us time to associate with other teachers and we get to bounce ideas about what each other is doing and basically it helps us out in our learning as facilitators, and also helps us learn overall to grow as a teacher,” Marsh said.

He added that the meetings let teachers de-stress and bond.

Cheraldin Celis, who teaches English for juniors and French, proposed a project reading the works of transcendentalists such as Thoreau and Emerson. She also wants to use Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild.”

“Into the Wild” is about a young man who goes to Alaska to find himself. He wants to discover the meaning of life. His family had money, but wanted to control what he did. The young man wanted to forget everything about his life and change his name.

“Unfortunately, he died. But the point, I guess, of reading this book is that he was a fan of Emerson and he was all about nature, the connection, man (as) spiritual, and also nature,” Celis said.

Students will be reading, analyzing choices and strategies they used to write.

Celis has been at NTO for four years. She said facilitators have used the sessions for planning, coming up with new ideas and helping each other.

When she began her formation as a teacher, Celis said she knew the traditional concepts that came with the profession.

“So for me, it’s been a growing process. I appreciate this time a lot, because this is what made me aware of allowing kids to have creativity in the classroom, maybe losing control a little bit and for them to gain control over their learning. So I have learned so much about the process of PBL strategies; project ideas. I really like I really like having this moment every Friday because we get to also be together. During the week, we don’t get to take the time to talk and see how everybody’s doing. So it’s really cool. It’s really cool to have this experience. I know that in other places, probably I wouldn’t have the chance to do that,” Celis said.