Funded by stimulus money, Manor's Think Forward Institute trains teachers in new teaching and learning techniques.
By Melissa B. Taboada | AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF
Monday, November 23, 2009
After spending four days in training in Manor, Harlingen High School teacher Connie LaFave said she's leaving her old classroom techniques behind.
LaFave, who teaches English in South Texas, said the traditional lecture-style teaching is boring, making students passive participants in lessons.
But after finishing the Manor school district's teaching residency at New Technology High School, LaFave said she's ready to tackle a new approach: helping students learn by using hands-on, collaborative projects.
"I'm really excited about it," she said. "I'm probably never going back to teaching the other way."
LaFave's training was part of Manor's Think Forward Institute for educators. The idea behind the institute is that students learn better when teachers cede their roles as lecturers and help students think independently. Master teachers from New Tech High trained the first group of 11 teachers three weeks ago and hosted 22 from Harlingen last week. The next training is set for spring.
The project-based learning technique turns traditional classroom lessons on their heads. For example, LaFave said she previously would have had her students read a story about the Puritans and later talk about the literary elements. Now, she said, she'll stage a mock trial so students will be active participants and learn about the literary elements along the way.
And Harlingen High School South physics teacher Robert Amitrani said his students will learn about the conservation of momentum by completing a project on safety features for a car. Traditionally, Amitrani would lecture on the concepts, then assign students a project to show what they've learned.
Manor's four-day residencies instruct educators on how to create original, data-driven projects that they can use when they return to their schools. The instructors will also mentor the teachers for a year, visiting their classes to observe their projects and provide feedback. The institute is limited to teachers in the Manor and Harlingen districts, but Manor officials said they ultimately want to train teachers from across the country.
"Peer-to-peer teaching is very powerful," Manor Superintendent Andrew Kim said.
The institute is funded by almost $1 million in stimulus funds awarded through the state's T3, or Target Tech in Texas, grant. The money — $451,321 to Manor and $512,978 to Harlingen — pays for training-related travel, substitute teachers, a mini-conference this summer and dozens of laptops for teachers and students.
"One of the (program's) biggest benefits is to students, delivering instruction to them that's much more relevant to them using 21st century learning skills," said James Pearcy, Harlingen's director of technology. "We have to train kids in things that haven't even been invented yet, so we have to teach them the process of learning, not just the content."
Manor's traditional high school and one of its middle schools this year received the state school accountability system's lowest rating, unacceptable. But New Tech High is the district's gem, rated recognized — the second-highest state rating. New Tech students perform above average on state tests.
"We can't keep touting the successes of New Tech High without looking at how to take these successes and implement them across grade levels ... and campuses," said Jamie Stone, Manor's coordinator of federal and state programs.
"This money has given us the opportunity to do that and expand this pocket of success," Stone said.