Innovation in Learning Study Group

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

By: Jenny Hewitt


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.


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.