Have you ever wondered about the first bridge? There was one, you know, and although the evidence of the initial crossing is lost, it is a momentous event in the history of our species. Imagine a human walking beside a stream or crevasse, a perpetual barrier because the water was too swift or the abyss too deep for our early predecessors to even consider attempting to reach the bank across the way. What was that like? How much courage did it take for that person to gaze at a fallen tree and say, “What I have here is no longer what I need, and though I can’t quite see everything on the other side, I have a glimpse that it is something significantly better. This is an opportunity and I must take the risk.”
Granted, this is most certainly a romanticized version, but whatever the actual impetus, that first bridge was crossed successfully. Eventually, unsatisfied with waiting on a chance to provide natural platforms, people began to construct their own. Modern bridges are now simultaneously hailed as exemplars of human engineering and works of art.
As a New Tech facilitator, I often feel like that early adventurer who carefully placed his unsteady foot on a fallen log. For twenty years, I functioned in a traditional school setting. As such, I had a neatly arranged classroom with rows of desks, stacks of worksheets, and exact answers available in boldface for all who turned to the correct page in the text. From time to time, I attended workshops with my colleagues. Each time, we got excited by the ideas presented and dutifully collected all the handouts, promptly discarding them when we returned to our classes to resume exactly the same routine as before. In 20 years, no real change occurred.
Then one day, I had the opportunity to peer across the river of unrealized educational potential when I saw a job posting for a school called New Tech High @ Coppell. Project-based learning? What was this method? I read what little I could find and was intrigued. Was this actually a different approach that was being practiced and not just preached? That very day I took my own first steps, and what I found as I crossed the bridge was simultaneously intimidating and wonderful: learners taking ownership of their education, collaborative groups producing authentic and innovative products, a spirit of collegiate cooperation and transparency with my peers, and the New Tech Network which provides support such as at NTAC 2013. Although I was initially the “bridge-crosser” when I accepted the job and joined the Network, I am now a dedicated “bridge-builder” as I work with my peers to continue to help my learners construct the futures of their dreams.