Innovation in Learning Study Group

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.