West Coast: Inside High Tech High's Four (Movable) Walls

Another fascinating dimension of our trip to High Tech High is to experience their San Diego campus and the array of elementary, middle and high school, school buildings on their campus. We know learning is inspired (or not) by the physical setting in which teachers teach and students learn. We spent the day immersed in their learning spaces and they provide insight into how they have paired their educational learning with their school’s architecture.

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Their educational pedagogy of project based learning is the organizing principle around which this California public charter school has either renovated existing buildings or built new.  Every classroom is more like a project room with not a single individual desk but rather interchangeable group tables and chairs. It is difficult to even use the term classroom in the traditional sense of rows of single desks with whiteboard or smartboard at the front of the classroom. So we might be better to call them project rooms.  New school construction allowed HTH to create transformable spaces with interchangeable walls that double as giant whiteboards, floor to ceiling whiteboards covering three interior sides of the room; storage spaces whose cabinet doors double as white boards.  Whiteboards everywhere - you throw a dry erase marker in just about any direction and you hit a whiteboard.  Have an idea?  There is a marker and whiteboard within reach.

Project rooms are shaped around a cul-de-sac of sorts, where rooms hub-and-spoke off of a common area.  The common areas was abuzz with group project work that looked like creativity in motion.  To the uninitiated, it looks something like controlled creative chaos.  The longer we observed and had the opportunity to talk with students and teachers, the clearer their methodology became.  It also became clear how integral the school’s design is to student learning.