Partnering for Quality Options

In El Paso, we focus on engaged and active learning. We serve our diverse bilingual population with hands-on projects-based and technology-rich classrooms.

For the past four years, the leadership team in the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) has been learning from the best schools in the country including the 200 New Tech Network schools.

Active learning requires a shift from traditional, teacher-centered classrooms. In making the shift towards more engaged learning for all students, we have learned several lessons:

Partners are important. One of the biggest and most transformative changes we have made is by partnering with New Tech Network. The nonprofit New Tech Network supports big blocks of integrated project-based learning and supports 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 about 400 student academies 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:

We are excited to announce that in the fall of 2017 the list of New Tech schools in EPISD will grow. 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.

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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. We have remodeled some of the EPISD existing structures and 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,” teacher Jayne Pynes said. “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.

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 been ok with lesson experimentation and supports this change.

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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.

 

Active Learning Requires Innovative Spaces

A few years ago, there were a lot of traditional classrooms in El Paso with low level test prep activities in a low-tech environment.

When you visit El Paso classrooms today, you are much more likely to see active learning–engaged students doing challenging work, often in two languages and using the latest technology.

With the recent passage of a $668.7 construction bond, El Paso students will have the opportunity to learn in modern facilities that reflect our active learning vision. We are thankful for El Paso voters and for their confidence in our vision and ability to provide all students innovative spaces to learn in.

Here are a few ways active learning spaces differ from traditional classrooms:screen-shot-2017-02-12-at-7-06-56-pmAll students deserve modern facilities that are more reflective of what you see on the right-hand side. Active learning requires that students have space to work, build, iterate, communicate and ultimately have learning experiences that are not pre-planned.

Active learning is already alive and well in El Paso classrooms. Teachers like Jill McGee, 2016 El Paso Elementary Teacher of the Year, support that active learning is really helping with student engagement and performance. In the video below, she shares how she has worked to implement these ideas in her classroom.

Teachers are receiving support from coaches and our district partner engage2learn, who is working to help us implement active learning. One of the first examples of new learning spaces in El Paso are the six New Tech Network schools. We took down walls in existing school buildings to create big classrooms for integrated project work. Students and teachers express how much they like teaching & learning in these spaces.121316_chapin-villages_067_copy

Another example of how EPISD is providing students space for active learning is through Project Lead the Way. Students at Chapin High School were asked to create a winter wonderland village resembling the Victorian age. The students said scratch that, let’s use what we have been learning in our six Principles of Engineering classes and make modern, innovative and sustainable winter wonderland villages.

Students created the villages entirely out of recyclable materials. Daniels-Sherman, magnet coordinator, said that students had to incorporate engineering principles that they were learning about such as, “circuitry, architecture, creativity and design.”

I’d argue if they weren’t in a classroom space that encouraged them to see endless possibilities and where they felt they had the tools to do so, they might not have felt so compelled to create such innovative projects.

The spaces where we ask students to be active learners is almost (if not equally) as important as the ideas behind active learning itself.

This blog was published on the Getting Smart website. You can read it by clicking on this link.  Follow Mr. Cabrera on Twitter @jecabrera12