When Manor New Tech High School opened back in 2007, it drew a visit from then-President Obama, who touted its tech-forward teaching model as the future of public schools. Now, Manor Independent School District is applying that model to a new middle school.
At first glance, Manor New Tech Middle School doesn’t look like most schools. For one, the cafeteria isn’t just a space for kids to eat lunch. It’s also a classroom – and a library.
"There’s very few walls," Scott Thomas, the district’s communications director. “Most of the walls that you see, those are break-out rooms where students who are working on projects break out into small groups."
That’s part of the New Tech model– students learn in a space that doesn’t look like a traditional school. Entire floors are open and filled with movable tables, benches and white boards.
The layout of the school is fluid, because they don’t want students sitting in desks listening to a teacher. Instead, classes are project-based. Students are given a bit of instruction, and then they start working on assignments together during the class.
Science teacher Tracee Cummins says that takes some getting used to. In her eighth-grade chemistry class, she puts the kids right to work on a worksheet, with little review or instruction. Instead, she wanders around the class and helps kids in small groups.
She lets students rotate between tables balancing different equations with one another. Then, she walks around the clusters of kids, helping them when they’re confused. For her, it’s an adjustment from just standing in front of a class. She crafts lessons with very little lead-time, and it’s a lot more work.
"Sometimes you get this great idea, and you plan it out, and you fall flat on your face because it didn’t go the way you thought it would, or the kids are like ‘This is stupid,’” she says. “So sometimes it’s really worth the work, and sometimes you’re like, ‘Aw, man I got to tweak it,’ and it becomes more work."
The goal of all this group work is to have students grasp a concept faster, and eighth-grader Elizabeth Yen says that’s been the case for her.
"Sometimes I teach myself when I teach other people," she says. "Like I start understanding myself when I teach them."
Elizabeth says she enjoys this model of learning so much, she wants to continue this education at Manor’s New Tech High School, but there’s no guarantee she’ll get in. The school has been so popular that the district uses a lottery system to choose students.
An earlier version of this story said Manor New Tech High School opened in 2013, it opened in 2007.