For students at Manor New Technology High School, lectures and homework assignments are a foreign concept. Tablets take the place of textbooks, and many classes are taught by a team of instructors.
This fall, a group of students is working to bring their school’s innovative learning system abroad.
The school exclusively utilizes project-based learning, a process that teaches course concepts through hands-on projects and presentations which students design themselves. Steve Zipkes, Manor New Tech’s principal, says it's a more engaging and up-to-date learning system.
"Student these days are digital natives," Zipkes says. "We’re using technology as the invisible tool. It’s not what makes teaching and learning, but it certainly enhances it. With our students today, it’s almost a necessity."
Students work in groups of two to four, and complete about seven projects in each class throughout the school year. The school focuses on STEM learning, using tools like smartphones, cameras and computers to familiarize students with useful technology.
For her senior project, student Archarida Sajjapala is working to bring project-based learning to an international school in Thailand.
She and classmate Michael Dossa will fly to Thailand in a few weeks to train students on the project-based learning system. Sajjapala plans to use programs like Skype and Facebook to connect Thai students with those at Manor New Tech. They hope to collaborate on projects in a variety of subjects, which they will present at the end of the two-week program.
After visiting family in Thailand, Sajjapala says she noticed that many Thai students pursue careers in business fields. She says she feels project-based learning could better prepare students for presentations in their professional lives. But taking the new system abroad is no small task.
"We're really nervous because we also have to complete our college applications and finals and projects," Sajjapala says. "I just want to show them exactly what we do, and show them what the future is going to be like in terms of bringing technology into education."
Sajjapala says she has always been shy and reserved, but presenting projects to her classmates has helped her gain confidence. She says she hopes it will do the same for students around the world.
“It was to the point where my grades in middle school kind of took a downfall, because I didn’t have any initiative to speak up,” Sajjapala says. “Being at a project-based learning school has really helped me go out of my limits and do something like what I’m doing right now.”
Manor New Tech is one of about 125 schools in the New Technology Network, and one of 13 in Texas. According to principal Zipkes, the school of 351 students currently has a 99.4 percent graduation rate, and each of those graduates successfully gains admission into college. He says many of those students are the first in their families to attend college, and about half of them come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
President Barack Obama visited Manor New Tech this May. He recognized the school as a model for America’s high schools, effectively preparing students for college and the workforce.
Zipkes says Manor New Tech averages about 1,000 visitors a year. School officials have trained schools in countries including Guadalajara, Great Britain and Canada in project-based learning.
"We’re at a tipping point in education worldwide where we’re not adapting technology to fit into an education system," Zipkes says. "Technology is forcing an educational shift in how we deliver instruction. It’s almost to a point worldwide that the days of sit and get are gone."