East Coast: Communal Spaces

By: Melissa Fellows

Spaces have the power to influence people but people also have the power to influence spaces. After the first two days of our trip, I am banking on the latter. We have had the opportunity to see several extraordinary facilities alive with the hum of learning and filled with the promise of what’s to come. Structural changes to our building will take time. I am hopeful that we can use this time as an opportunity to experiment, shift mindsets, and push the envelope of possibility.

IMG_5335.JPG

I was struck by a sign on the wall at the Harvard I Lab that said: “Communal spaces take communal effort.” The sign was located in open meeting and working space and was hinting at idea that everyone needed to clean up after themselves. I took the sign to heart and chose to think of our school as a communal space. How can we take the spark for student-driven exploration, authentic learning experiences, and desire to nurture student passion and come together as a community to fan the flames into something much bigger?


When visiting the Field School today, we asked a team of teachers if the new building has impacted the way that they teach and students learn. They told us that they collaborate more now and use technology more seamlessly to engage students. These are outcomes we can accomplish by shifting philosophies as well as physical spaces. How can we use our current spaces differently? Could schedule changes facilitate greater collaboration? Can we leverage the #ObserveMe movement to push ourselves outside of our comfort zones? I believe that digging deeply into questions like these is the communal effort that our communal space needs.

East Coast: Treehouses and Caves

By: Erin Hanrahan

Before yesterday, I'd never met an architect. I'd never heard the terms "hot-desking" (hipster lingo for itinerant work spaces) or "nano walls." And I'd certainly never considered the relative merits of ottomans in the classroom. But when I was a kid, my friend's mother often referred to the sections of her family home as "The Treehouse" and "The Cave." Every good home, she claimed, needs both.

Walking through the Harvard Innovation lab, MIT Teaching Systems Lab, and The Dearborn School yesterday, under the expert guidance of architect David Stevens, I was challenged to expand my understanding of space as it pertains to learning environments. Stevens talked about using "neighborhoods" within schools to build community and foster collaboration. His colleagues explained that intimate spaces are equally important for students to meet and study independently. Eventually, I found myself reverting to my old model and classifying the work spaces we viewed into treehouses and caves.

media-20171128.jpg

So far, we've seen a lot of treehouses. Our first stop, the Harvard Innovation lab, featured open work spaces meant to function as hives, where students would interact and even ring a communal gong to celebrate successes. (Disappointingly, it did not go off while we were there). At MIT, our hosts emphasized the importance of building spaces where people would "accidentally" bump into one another, to foster the sharing of ideas. And The Dearborn School, where construction is still underway, centers around an enormous atrium, or "winter garden," upon which all classrooms look out.

By contrast, at Woodstock, we are all cave. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Harvard students at the Innovation lab reported that the small work rooms there are always in high demand, and that there are never enough of them. A poster in the lab put it another way: "Common spaces need common effort." It is not always easy to be in the treehouse, nor is it always advisable. But the decisions around learning space are important. After my crash course in architecture yesterday, I am learning to see that the physical space a school offers, and the way students and teachers use that space, reflects more than just a blueprint design. The schools we have visited are trying to strike a balance between unity of purpose and individual freedom, between collaboration and independence, between coherence and innovation. And they are doing this by making intentional decisions around common spaces and retreats, or as my friend's mom would call them, treehouses and caves.

West Coast: Student Voices

By: Elaine Leibly

Thursday morning before we left San Diego for home, Mary Beth asked our group how the trip might have changed our thinking around what a student should know and be able to do to graduate from Woodstock Union High School.

Here’s what the two students on our trip had to say about that:

IMG_3426.JPG

“I’d like to know about finances.  But I don’t really know what I need to know as an adult”.

“I know I need 25 credits to graduate.”

“We need three science credits.”

“I don’t know what we need to graduate in terms of skills.”

There are two things that I find really interesting about this conversation.  The first is the reminder that students don’t know what they don’t know.  It is our job, together with their parents, to teach them.  The second is that some students, possibly many students, view their education not as a set of skills that prepare them for life but as a series of tasks that must be completed.

West Coast: Empathy-Based Design

By: Jen Stainton

At WUMSHS, students are engaging with an organization named Changing Perspectives to grow empathy for people with differences through our advisory program.  Empathy is also a project-based theme for students in IDEA, based in the NuVu Innovation Lab space.  Empathy at our school, however, is not an intentional aspect of student work and teacher lesson planning the same way it is in High Tech Schools.  Notice the three pictures in this blog post.  They were all taken in one school building at High Tech Chula Vista.  Empathy is a clear message students see every time they enter the school.  

Empathy1.JPG

Our travel group engaged in a design thinking workshop with educators from High Tech Point Loma.  In small groups, we selected a problem to design a solution to.  The very first step of the process was the identification of people involved in the problem so that we could reflect on it from their perspective.  This perspective shift allowed us to design more authentic solutions because we began from a place of empathy.

Empathy2.JPG

Students at High Tech Schools engage in a similar design process when they complete projects for their classes.  By interviewing people most impacted by a problem, by working with experts in the field, by doing a thorough research before engaging in solution iteration, students engage in empathy.   

Empathy3.JPG

Sitting to lunch with two Juniors at High Tech Chula Vista, I realized that empathy extended beyond the project.  They both agreed: students care about each other at school.  Both transferred from local schools where they experienced bullying, and they loved HTCV because they felt welcome and safe.  

 

West Coast: Math Coursework

By: Kate Watts

On Wednesday I spent a great deal of time speaking with students about math instruction. The students who excel at math reported that exceptions were made to the rule that students remain with their classes and were able to take classes with upper classmates, but they would not receive credit. If they exceed what is offered at their school they move to college courses. For students who do not excel at math they find the math classes frustrating. They report that there is little direct instruction.  Students are given worksheets and are expected to work in their groups to work towards solutions. They would prefer a model of one half hour of direct instruction and then on half hour of group work. Students who still need help are able to access one on one tutoring with more advanced students after school.

West Coast: Ready to Launch

By: Matt McCormick

There is no doubt that what we have seen in San Diego is impressive. It has made me think much more deeply about what we mean by the term “innovative.” At High Tech High, it seems to mean project based learning. They do it very, very well.

IMG_1646.JPG

But I do think it’s important to realize that teachers in our own district are engaging their students in project-based learning. Last year’s impressive Moth storytelling event at Artistree comes to mind. So does the 8th-grade solar collection project. Also 7th graders’ “I wonder” letters to scientists about a topic of their choosing.

In addition, there are myriad schools in New England and even in Vermont that have also committed themselves to engaging students through the study of real-world issues that result in authentic projects. In fact, New York state’s Common Core-aligned Language Arts curriculum, Engage NY, is nearly all project based, particular in the elementary and middle grades. The National Council for the Social Studies’ database of units, c3teachers.org,also contains plenty of ideas for launching project-based learning.

All of which is to say: We can do this. There are certainly areas in which we can and should grow. But I do think we have a great platform from which to launch.

West Coast: Thoughts on Innovative Schools

By: Stephen Stuntz

IMG_1193.JPG

High Tech High lives up to its reputation as a school that looks, teaches, assesses and engages students differently. The school has a real energy as students are moving throughout the building and very active in each classroom. Student projects are prominently displayed, esp. in High Tech Middle School, High Tech International and High Tech Chula Vista (there are 13 campuses of High Tech schools). Students seem highly engaged, proud of their school and work as well as being very comfortable interacting with visitors.

The first thing a visitor notices is the layout with big open areas and many places for students to congregate; think modern tech campus. In some of the campuses, there are major projects happening in the common area. At High Tech International, students were using glue and clamps as well as an electric drill to build a large display for their work right in the entrance. At other schools there are displays of work that are of high quality and semi permanent, not posters but work that mixes written work with art work professionally printed or laser cut into wood or displayed in another creative way. There is not a locker or athletic display case in sight; it is all about the student work.

At all of the High Tech Campuses in Point Loma, the classrooms are off of a larger common work space in a hub and spokes type of configuration. At Chula Vista there are common work spaces and a wing for each grade 9-12. Each classroom has large windows so that anyone can see in and so that students working in the common space are able to see and be seen by their teachers. The preferred mode of work in the classroom is cooperative group work though a lot of student run Socratic Seminars were also observed. The discussions and group work was very high quality. The big difference is that with Project Based Learning, the final products are months in the making, involve research, organization and planning, connection with outside experts and a final product or presentation (usually both) that is shared with a wide audience in a very public way. At the highest levels it may also include implementation of a community initiative or a product launch.

IMG_1187.JPG

Another interesting observation was that very few, as in almost none, of the students were “pulled out” for supplemental instruction. All special services were given by the classroom teacher, a peer (a lot of peer coaching was observed) or by one of the Education Specialists or Academic Coaches who worked in the classroom with students needing extra assistance. For a school with lots of students with diverse language and learning needs, this is a different approach than many schools take.

Students do not have much choice as to what classes they take and they don’t have as many electives such as arts, languages, music etc. as a comprehensive high school. They do, however, have choices within the parameters of the project within each class. This is a big difference with a comprehensive public high school.

High Tech High and the related campuses offer a unique approach to teaching and learning focusing on transferable 21st Century Skills, complex projects and public sharing of student work which is definitely worth exploring.  

West Coast: Reflections from High Tech High Day 1 and Design 39 Campus

By: Jenny Hewitt

IMG_3431.JPG

These two schools have very similar purposes - they want to cultivate student engagement and ownership of learning while fostering 21st learners. The way each went about it is quite different. High Tech High reconfigured old spaces to repurpose them for their needs. Their buildings are a wildly eclectic collection of unique spaces; you don’t know what lies around each corner. Design 39 Campus was built from the ground up based on the needs and desires of their target population. Their ceilings are high, paint colors vibrant, spaces deliberate, and light-filled rooms stark.  

One element that is common in both is the available space for meeting and collaboration. There are common areas outside of classrooms where teams of students can meet, areas where teachers can plan, and places to showcase student work and celebrate learning. Throughout the Design 39 campus there are write on surfaces for people to jot and draw their thinking during these collaborative sessions. Students and teachers alike use vertical, free-moving whiteboards to both capture learning and thinking as well as to share it with others.

IMG_3435.JPG

Another area that was apparent in both is that the designation as project-based does not mean that skills and content are not taught. There is a balance between providing students with the basic knowledge that they need and empowering them authentic projects. Lots more to explore about this balance. I have many questions about differentiation, thematic learning, and standards swirling through my head.

West Coast: What Project-Based Learning Might Look Like in Elementary School

By: Marcia Gauvin

Art3.JPG

In the NGSS, some of the First Grade Physical Science Performance Expectations revolve around light and how light interacts with different materials. What if these standards could be met through a shadow puppet play as a culminating project?  What if the students could use their science investigations of light in conjunction with their art and engineering skills to create puppets that incorporate elements that are transparent, translucent, and opaque?  What if they wrote scripts that reflected their work in social studies or literacy?  What if they worked with their Spanish teacher to make their script bilingual?  What if they worked with the music teacher to create original songs and musical accompaniment?  What if they took their show on the road, performing for the different classes?  What if they used their library and media classes to film and share their play with a greater audience?

The possibilities are numerous and the costs are low.  It requires a much more integrated approach to their traditional “science” studies, but it might make a whole lot more sense to them when it comes to the question of “why are we studying this?”  

West Coast: Defining and Describing Learning

By: Elaine Leibly

Here are some words that have been used to define and describe learning while we’ve been here in San Diego:

Purpose – noun – the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

Learning should have purpose, and students should know that purpose.


Relevant – adjective – closely connected or appropriate to what is being done or considered.

Learning should be relevant and meaningful to the student.  The projects at their schools are designed with student input around student interests.
 

Art.JPG

Retain – verb – continue to have (something), to keep possession of, to keep in one’s memory.

For true learning to occur, the knowledge must be retained.  That which is meaningless and irrelevant will be discarded; learning that has purpose and is relevant will be retained.
 

Passion – noun – strong and barely controllable emotion, an intense desire or enthusiasm for something, a thing arousing enthusiasm.

Teaching and learning should include the passions of not only students and teachers.  Passion can be about anything.
 

Art2.JPG

Superpower – noun – the capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.

We teach.  What’s your superpower?

West Coast: Reflections from Abbey

By: Abbey Duane (WUHS Class of 2020)

D396.JPG

The experience of these two schools so far has been incredible for me. Although I think that there are specific important things that these schools are lacking, the overall feel of the school is amazing. When walking into either of these school, you get the feel that the students want to be there. I think a lot of this is based on the fact that a lot of the students learning is based off of things they are interested in. High Tech High was a perfect example of this. It was explained that the students interests are first explored, and then the given standards are applied based off those interests. I believe that this is a key part of why the students are so happy to be in there school, because they work off of their own interests. I think that the interest in their school activities relives stress of the students, as well as the no homework idea. Since the students are so involved during classes, because of their passion for their learning, they in turn do not have homework to do. We were told that they may have a couple assignments here or there but they do not regularly have homework after school. This is an amazing segment of this system that shows how great the vibe of the schools are.

Although there are a few major downsides to this different system. In turn for the amazing feel of the school's student and teacher life these schools are missing a few key things. For example, High Tech High, Middle and Elementary, none of these schools had counseling offices. Students would have to go to advisory teachers, teachers who are not skilled in the counseling department and who have many other things going on revolving around their subject. This was a major downside because of the importance of mental health. High school is a very stressful time, and many students may need help with their health during this time. Depriving them of help will most likely cause future problems for them. Another aspect I thought was a downside was their schedules. For High Tech, students take four classes during a semester, then change one of those classes after one semester. This deprives them of many opportunities telling them things they may be interested in. Although High Tech incorporates interests into their projects, students won’t be able to access many interests because of their schedules. The students take a math, a science, humanities (social studies, English) and a choice block. A similar situation happens at Design 39. Although instead of a choice block, they had “deep dive”. A block where the kids would choose a class being offered and try, and deeply understand the class. I think this also hurts their search for future opportunities.

There are good and not so good things about this system. I believe that if this system was integrated into Woodstock learning it would take a lot of understanding by students and parents. This learning system is incredible but parents and students would have to understand how important it is to gain this in our school. Teaching about the good in bad is really the most effective way to help people form their opinions about this system. At High Tech everyone has chosen to be at that school, and I think keeping everyone on the same page will help create a community of people who are behind good learning and will help enhance students capabilities! Collaborating on the ideas that will change our school is very important and we should help everyone understand exactly what the future for our school looks like!

West Coast: Plusses and Minuses To Every Program

By: Maggie Parker (WUHS Class of 2020)

D395.JPG

At the end of our second day, I’ve noticed some key factors that are shared within High Tech High and Design 39, in both physical and value-based aspects. Both schools have lots of large windows, both on the outsides of the buildings and inside that provide a fishbowl effect on the classrooms. What I think is the most impactful and meaningful building design was the common spaces that were present in both High Tech High and Design 39. These spaces were used not only as an additional learning space, but also as a space students can work independently both during and outside of their classes. In High Tech High, these common spaces were designated to a specific grade, with classrooms on all sides of the space. While this might be a hard aspect to integrate into our school without some construction, I really think it would help improve the independence of students. Some people may be thinking, ‘but do they really do work in these areas without supervision?’ The short answer is yes. The teachers at these school trust their students, and the students respect the teachers. The students understand that if they don’t do their work, their teachers may no longer allow them to use the space, so they respect the opportunity to be able to work independently.

In a more value based perspective, what I saw in both schools is a real interest and a desire to learn. The students in the classes we stepped into seemed to be genuinely enjoying their work, and when we talked to some of them, we found that even the young children are already passionate about learning and really enjoy where they go to school. These students emphasized how much they enjoyed the project based learning model, including the

“explorations” and “deep dives” they do multiple times a year. These could be compared to the elective we currently have in our school. Also present in both schools was project based learning, where all disciplines intermingle to work on the same project. These projects can pull on the core knowledge each student has, and relate them to their own interests in order to create a more personalized learning platform.

In terms of curriculum and extracurriculars, it was interesting to see what these schools have had to leave out to make room for the innovative learning taking place. For example, in HTH, there was no band program or library, and also no designated school counselors. They also didn’t have a football team, and had limited foreign language choices (from what I gathered yesterday). Design 39 had a library and music program, but we talked to the principle about how many teachers may teach one main subject, and their “super power” may be in something that is used for an exploration or deep dive. One exploration might be Spanish, but not having an official Spanish class all year may discourage some students who may be passionate about languages. I’m very internally conflicted about this, because while I would enjoy having many chances to try a small course of a certain subject, but at the same time, I greatly enjoy having something like Latin all year long because I enjoy it so much.

So far, from visiting these schools, I’ve realized what we might have to give up to access this innovative learning plan, and how it might affect the students who like what is currently happening in Woodstock, and may be frightened of change. I believe that the first step of the redesign process should be working directly with the students of the school, because in the end they will be the products of this innovation and the ones whose education is being changed.

West Coast: A Day 2 Post From Sherry

By: Sherry Sousa

Today we traveled to another innovative school south of San Diego called Design 39.  Their administrative offices were called the Welcome Center, their nurse's’ office the Wellness Center, and their teachers were Learning Experience Designers.  In order to change the thinking of what it meant to be a school, they felt it was important to change the language they used.  

D393.JPG

The Principal of Design 39 offered us guidance in our future work.  He noted that every school has their own ecosystem, and that we can’t replicate programs from one place to another.  He added that they began their conversations when creating their school with two questions:  “What does good teaching look like?”; and “What does good learning look like?”.  He encouraged us to value what we have, and not what we haven’t done.  Finding the passion in educators, what they call “super powers”, allows for greater depth of programming.  He shared that he has a humanities teacher whose superpower is pottery design, and another core teacher has wood working skills.   He agreed that there is a need for curriculum that can be fed with individual passions.  

The words that echoed in my mind as I walked away from this remarkable building were Human Centered Design, Elevation of Humanity, Thoughtful Leadership, and Life Ready.  These are the underpinnings of an educational community that will breed in our students the creativity that is needed in an extremely challenging and evolving world.

D394.JPG

West Coast: A Day 2 Post From Keri and Kate

By: Keri Bristow and Kate Watts

D391.JPG

Today we visited Design39, a pre-K through grade 8 school north of the city. Glass walls make transparency a reality. An $80,000,000 school serving 1200, with teachers given release time for more than a year, at least 30 parent forums, allow intentional planning and time to dream. 30 students in each class with one teacher, working in groups and pairs, on task, were impressive to observe. Daily random seating changes with roles within each group help students understand what they need to do and demonstrate their learning. Technology use was used by many, including a second grade girl who navigated a WiFi failure!  Many open spaces for students as well as teachers to gather. Vertical white boards get students up and moving, changing the classroom dynamic by making the learning active. Tables were painted with whiteboard paint so that students could draw and write as they were collaborating. It was an inspiring morning!

D392.JPG

West Coast: A Day 1 Post From Michelle

By: Michelle Fountain

The first thing you notice walking into High Tech High or  High Tech Middle School is the high ceilings. After your gaze travels upward to the sound absorbers hanging from the ceilings of a multipurpose space or the exposed pipes above a classroom, the next thing the eye is drawn to is the student work that decorates the walls. The student work varies: wooden portrait cases (with a place to insert goals), animal sculptures, wooden gears, a visualization of how a student sees herself and how she thinks others see her, and another visualization of how people adapt to their surroundings, among others.

Beyond the high ceilings and student work, flexibility seems to be key to the school design. Some walls open up to join classrooms, there are open spaces used for performances, presentations, or meetings and work spaces between every four classrooms that can be used for small group or individual work. Teachers share offices and can work with students there as well. There are more windows and glass than in the average classroom, so everything is visible.

The most prominent vision of the schools is the engagement of the learners. They are all participating, whether it is in a Socratic Seminar, an engineering project, silkscreening a t-shirt, or reading and researching. They are also very open to talking about what they are doing, explaining how they designed the image they were printing, the idea behind an app to find public bathrooms that they were creating or talking about a book they are reading and its connection to multiple disciplines. They practice this with regular exhibitions of their projects where parents and community members can learn from the students about what they have created and how they created it.

Connection seems to be key here. Connection to each other as students work on team projects, connecting disciplines as Humanities teachers team up with science teachers for a project or the art teacher teams with the engineering teacher. There are also connections to the community as juniors spend a month at an internship they have set up to follow an interest at a local business or local experts come in and share knowledge or ideas with the students.

It is exciting to see the ownership the students have for their learning as they use design thinking to tackle real-world problems in spaces that provide the tools and support needed to accomplish them.

 

West Coast: A Day 1 Post From Jen

By: Jennifer Stainton

What is the mission of High Tech Schools?  What are the core values that drive the work of all teachers and students?  How is this mission communicated so it is truly a shared vision?  These were the questions I had in mind as we started our tour of the many schools comprising the High Tech campus.  Within minutes, my questions were answered, but not in a way I expected.  

Was there a mission statement on the wall?  No.  T-shirts with values emblazoned on the back?  Nope.  Course catalog neatly packaged and handed out with mission on page 1?  You probably guessed it… no.       

The originators of the High Tech Schools ignored all of that.  In fact, intentional ignoring of what they call “basic axioms” in education is what drives the work of High Tech Schools.  They intentionally don’t do the following:

  1. Separate students according to perceived academic ability

  2. Separate hand and minds - and “disciplines”

  3. Separate school from the world

They call these “don’t do’s” their “three integrations,” and they use them to drive the everyday experiences of High Tech School students.  I found this angle of intention setting rather refreshing: a concrete list of things a school doesn’t believe in instead of the highly traditional (oft-written, rarely followed, lofty to the point of inducing eye-rolling) school mission statement.   

HTH5.JPG

So, what does this look like?  I’ll share some examples of the second “don’t do”: separating the disciplines.  English and History are combined into a 2-hour block of humanities.  Science integrates math and is also taught in a 2 hour block.  Math is also taught apart from science, however it is taught in an integrative model with Math 1, 2 and 3 for course offerings instead of algebra, geometry, etc…  But beyond these structures for integration, I observed an English and Science teacher collaborating to integrate their subjects.  The teachers brought together cyphers and coding with the reading and analysis of dystopian novels to engage students in the design of escape rooms that incorporate all of these ideas.  The top 3 escape room designs will actually be built by the students for the public to enter and attempt to escape.  I also saw a chemistry teacher integrate science and business to start a soap making company with his students, using the profits to bolster scholarships for High Tech Students.

I observed students engaging with experts in the field.  I spoke with three students who just returned from an interview with the head of Sea World to learn more about the impact of invasive species on ocean life.  They said, “we were really nervous to meet with him, but he was really good about explaining things clearly to us, and we got a lot of information for our project.”  The students were just sitting down to listen to the recording of the interview and glean even more useful information to help with their project.

I saw teachers focusing on student learner outcomes that were transferable between subject areas.  The photo below shows Student Learning Outcomes that were posted on the wall at High Tech International (one of the HT High Schools).  Interestingly, these almost perfectly match the Vermont Transferable Skills.  With a focus on learning outcomes that include collaboration, critical thinking, and communication, I can imagine teachers see discipline integration as both opportunity and necessity.

HTH4.JPG

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.

HTH3.JPG

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.

West Coast: End of Day 1

HTH1.JPG

In the afternoon, the Innovation Study team shared their lunch with High Tech High teachers who offered their perspective on this unique learning experience.  These educators noted that their salaries were in line with those in nearby public schools, that there were multiple models for assessing student progress that they could select  from, and that they needed to insure students had a base knowledge of the content.  What they found was different about their teaching experience was the level of autonomy they had in selecting projects that encapsulated  the Common Core Standards.  Earlier another educator shared how they were encouraged to find their passion and to later determine how the standards were folded into student learning.  She offered how an interest in Sherlock Holmes novels led to a yearly third grade project on mystery writing and investigation.

Our day at High Tech High ended in a study of Design Thinking, where we took a deeper look at developing understanding and compassion for an individual that challenged us.  Each of our team identified a student, colleague or other who may not have responded to our instruction in a desirable way.  We then looked at their assets as well as specific challenges.  Small groups selected one of these students to further develop a hypothesis of their needs and a “hack” of how those concerns could be addressed.  Pushing our team to look beyond the obvious when students do not succeed in our learning environment was a primary goal of this activity.  Many saw the connection of this structured conversation to the students we discuss at our Educational Support Teams.

HTH2.JPG

We walked away from the multiple campuses of High Tech High with a greater understanding of what is possible.  We saw a myriad of projects that braided content areas into singular themes.  We heard the voices of students that held convictions on current topics and predictions of what could be.  And we began to imagine how these instructional practices could work in our unique classrooms.  

West Coast: Day 1

IMG_9244.jpg

Three hours into our first day of investigating innovative schools and we are overwhelmed with the potential we are seeing.  We have met students who deeply know and own their work, growth and goals.  Classrooms of 24 students, at every grade level, that focus learning at the skill levels of their students. Buildings and classrooms that engage students and adults to stretch their thinking of what is possible.  Basic skills that are not ignored but rolled into the project or theme of the class.  Student discourse that is sophisticated, student facilitated, and questioning of the core concepts we adhere to.  To say we are impressed is truly an understatement.  

The Innovations Study team also sees that our schools’ have many of the core pieces in place.  Our curriculum is not significantly different.  Our students value education and learning as strongly.  Teachers have similar skill sets and knowledge.

What appears to be different is that the structure and method of engagement allows for greater ownership of learning by the student.  Teaches sit in the back of classrooms and collect data on student voice.  Students are valued for what they contribute in their words, in their writing, and in their artwork.  There is minimal homework with the focus on advancing the learning in the presence of the teacher.  There are no study halls or resource rooms.  The classroom is not defined by four walls. And schools are filled with examples of high-quality student work.