Innovation in Learning Study Group

West Coast: Plusses and Minuses To Every Program

By: Maggie Parker (WUHS Class of 2020)


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.