Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia

I finally got to meet with a Principal of a US High School! Chris Lehmann, Principal of the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) gave me some of his precious time to debrief at the end of a wonderful 4 hour visit to his school.
I told him I wanted to try to summarise what I thought were the key driving principles for learning at his school.I told him they appeared to be:

  • student centredness
  • learn by doing (projects/makerspace)
  • subjects as lenses not as silos
  • community connection
He agreed, but quickly added an ethic of care. I immediately agreed with him because I had just been talking with some students and had asked them what they liked about being at this school and what misbehaviours occured. They loved the unfettered technology access, how it was "loose knit" but based  on trust and expectations of leadership. They said they were creating a community and felt safe in their school. The biggest misbehaviour they could identify was poor time management by some students and not always fully focused in class. They talked about how they monitored each other's  time management as they often worked in groups and needed each other to be onto it. When things went wrong people would spend time talking with the Principal who did not give up on them easily. In sharing this with Chris he was able to give examples of normal teenage misbehaviour that he had to deal with, but was deeply committed to the principles of restorative practice. In our discussions on this issue we shared our common disappointments with "powers that be" that were not proactive and vocal in support of principals who chose the restorative rather than punitive approach.

Just this morning, I tweeted my second plea to our MOE to stand strongly beside Principals who were subjected to media stories harrassing them because they did not suspend or exclude bullies. Defending such approaches in the face of parents and the wider community is a very lonely part of the job and requires constant courage. Our MOE needs to be more proactive and vocal and visible.

I was met at the start of the day by Jeremy Spry whom I assumed was a Deputy  Principal but he pointed out that because the demands they placed on teachers to deliver the PBL model were huge they used the resource designed to appoint administrators (DPs and APs) instead to appoint more teachers. The school of 500 had  a Principal and Co-Principal; everyone else was a teacher. It has been operating for 11 years and a few years ago opened another campus (Beeber) because of the demands they were facing for students to enrol. Enrolment is through an application and interview with a teacher and current student where the candidate brings and presents one of their  favourite projects which describe who they are and how they think.

Jeremy explained the concept of Essential Questions which acted as a focus for the projects at each grade level.

Jeremy explaining the Essential Questions
Each of the first three grade level has an Essential Question which is then broken down into 3 focussing questions. The Senior Grade's Essential Question of Creation does not have a set of questions, but has a set of core values to allow for more personalisation and differentiation.

In their Freshman Year there are 4 classes of 33 students. They all take 4 blocks a week of English, US History, Bio/Chemistry, Maths and Spanish. They do  2 blocks per week of 'non-elective' electives (Digi Tech, Art, Drama and Engineering). These are seen as the foundation subjects for being able to make quality presentations in multiple ways. Each is done for a semester with Digi Tech always taken in the first semester so that students are comfortable with all digital tools and platforms and the ethics involved in social media.

In their Sophomore Year they have a similar programme but World History and they do 1 "Elective" which is Health. They can also take Certificate Technology Education (CTE) courses which are state wide programmes and include engineering, film and photography. They have 2 lunch breaks because their space is limited (the first is at 10 35 and the second at 11 40). Some students choose to have no lunch break as the CTE courses run during the split lunch times. They can eat and snack throughout the day.

In their Junior Year their science changes to Physics and they can pick up PE (which is only offered at this Year level and you don't have to do as you can pick up your 2 sports credits by playing sport.)

In their Senior Year they must do English to meet College requirements but are free to choose anything else on offer.

An interesting elective many seniors choose is Student Assistant Teachers (SAT). They select a freshman class to attach themselves to and assist students, help them edit their work, take some lessons etc, etc. This was very cool annd I met some neat SATs.

Project Based Learning is the core of all programmes and they follow Wiggins' model of Understanding by Design. I saw the same range of cool project ideas that I have come across. I witnessed freshman students doing group presentations as a result of researching cool reactions and explaining in scientific terms how they worked (Elephant toothpaste!). I saw evidence of projects on the walls:

The whole school is involved in ILP (Individual Learning Programmes) on Wednesday afternoons. Because of a strong partnership with the Franklin Institute all Freshman and Sophomores spend the time there (not sure what they do) but Juniors and Seniors can organise their own placements/internships.

All students belong to a grade level Advisory and they meet twice a week for  40 minutes from 3 10 to 3 50 which is considered after school as on the 2 other days (Wednesday is ILP) they finish at 3 05. They focus  on similar things that other schools with an Advisory model do. They check on progress, grow relationships etc. They (students) speak strongly of it being like their family at school. There are just over 20 in each Advisory.

I had the pleasure of talking with senior student Ari several times throughout my visit. She told me "I am a senior enginneer", and she thought like an engineer when I cam across her in Chemistry working with three other student to find a solution to breaking down the acidity in a  lake which had been polluted. Their solution was to spread baking soda from a helicopter and to get people on jetskis to stir it up! Later on I came across her in Engineering. The classs' focus for the year was Assistive Technology and they had been working with community organisations to provide assistive technology. They were currently working on Fidget Spinners which they made and sold to raise funds to design an equivalent for a child without fine motor  skills.
Ari's Assistive Technology Fidget Spinner clamped to side of desk
The MakerSpace was a central place for many students and they make do with much less space than we expect. The teacher there had a clear process of attesting students to use as much of the equipment as possible (though some were "out-of-bounds".)
Small makerspace area which had a simiilar sized space to the left with work benches for electronics and other work and a space to the right (smaller) with a 3d printer and laser cutter. 

I loved my visit to this school. Grant Lichtman wrote very favourably about this school in #Edjourney which made me determined to visit. I was not disappointed.

What Have I Taken Away From This Visit?

  • I liked the "foundation subjects" of Digi Tech, Art, Drama and Engineering being taught in the first year so that students were supported to be able to make quality presentations in multiple ways to get away from the power point or poster routine
  • Student Assistant Teachers is a cool concept which I would like to explore.
  • I am becoming more interested in a whole year level being involved in an internship of some type at the same time
  • I think we need to find a way of aligning our timetable blocks in a more tuneful way (not quite sure why yet)
  • An agreed process of inquiry across the whole school seems like a great idea as it reinforces common language and practices (I know we do this well in Big and Impact Projects - not sure what we do within Modules or Hubs. Looking forward to finding out and seeing if we see it as important)
  • The ethic of  care was evident in the culture of the school. This must be maintained and strengthened.

Evidence of ethic of care
Cartoon depicting the core of SLA

Last night we had a wine and cheese with our AirBnB hosts. She is an ex teacher (describes herself as disobedient) and he is a professional musician and music teacher. They brought along 2 friends who are both lawyers with him being a lawyer for a school district in New Jersey. Great conversations were had!

One more day in Philadelphia then we catch a train to New York. It has been very thought-provoking to this point. I have only 1 school to visit there and am looking forward to a bit more relaxation time. I am immensely grateful to the SLT back at HPSS whose commitment to our school and qualty of their leadership have made it OK for me to be away for an extended period of time to renew, refresh and to be reinvigorated.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

High Tech High Chula Vista - that's more like it!

When I got picked up from Point Loma on Tuesday afternoon I met a cool Uber driver Francisco Moreno. I told him what I was doing in San Diego and that I had just visited Point Loma High Tech High. I then told him I was visiting the same school in Chula Vista. He was very interested because he lives in that area and went to school in that area. I googled where it was located and he talked about it being a newly developed area but that I would find it more diverse. If you follow me on Facebook you'll realise this chance connection resulted in Francisco taking me Leigh and Shirley on a guided tour of Tijuana and surrounding area later in the week. I hope to keep the connection going with him.

Anyway, he was correct about Chula Vista. While the structure  of the visit was similar (student tour - with just me), free-ranging (maybe better than Point Loma because their three schools were spread across several suburban blocks whereas Chula Vista, like us, is one building), lunch with 2 teachers (this time a neat conversation with both parties contributing) and a fruitful meeting with Lisa a senior leader the vibe of the place was warm and inviting.

My day started with sophmore (Year 10 - our Year 11) student, Iza, taking me throughout the school which is located on the edger of the desert.
Grade Structure

  • 4 grade levels
    • 3 teams per grade
    • 2 classes per team
  • Like Point Loma each grade level took set classes
  • Iza liked this because it allowed teachers to collaborate with their projects
  • Project Based Learning
  • Loosely defined by Stanford Model (Empathise, Ideate, etc) but a project could include anything that looks like an inquiry and does not follow any set process
  • Usually teacher comes up with project idea (has been pitched to colleagues [other teachers in the team] and critiqued and strengthened)
    • sometimes student feedback/input sought into project ideas
  • Project is usually across 2 subjects eg:
    • Engineering/Humanities
      • design and build a haunted house/creative writing of horror stories
    • Chemistry/Humanities
      • study of sustainable, alternative energy culminating in a debate
    • Biology/Humanities (in this case the Biology teacher was an artist)
      • study of anatomy included a piece of visual art accompanied by a spoken word piece

    • Maths/Business
      • Shark Tank - pitch a business and run it

  • Projects mostly result in a product (see above) and also included:
    • Particle Petting Zoo
    • Political Cartoons

    • Steam Punk

  • Seniors (Final Year) could do a Senior Project on anything they liked (required teacher sign off) as long as it had a community aspect.
  • Electives
    • 1 per trimester
    • multi-grade level
    •  some student-led eg
Iza with some work from the Ethnic Studies elective she runs with another student (she will run this each semester for her reamining years at school)

    • anything a teacher wishes to offer eg Peace Leadership League. They started by producing an impressive mural for front of school after a student died to show how bad can become good (this student had found solace in music)

  • Carried out in Junior Year (our Year 12)
    • last 4 weeks of the year
    • pupils spend year planning and selecting
    • often careers based
    • driven by concept of "leave something behind" eg
      • David, who was a Biology enthusiast, secured a placement at National History Museum. He will leave a presentation on what he learned by being involved in the Museum
Goal Setting

  • Not sure how this occured but I assume it happened in Advisories (see below) but liked some of the evidence I saw

  • 30 minutes per day
  • separate grade levels
  • No curriculum but most seemed to follow a pattern of:
    • Monday Management (administration)
    • Tuesday Talk (current issues)
    • Wednesday Worries (Ups and Downs)
    • Thursday ???? (something to do with tracking grades)
    • Friday Free Time (kick a ball, share favourite Youtube channels)
Student Comments
  • love school
  • love hands-on projects
  • love lack of textbooks and little homework
  • some anxiety about are we being prepared for the demands of university (but they know they are)
Teacher Comments
  • √čvery one teaches like an art teacher"
  • Everything gets messy a lot of the time but we just keep talking
  • "less control but more windows"= less rules etc but lots of visibility and lots of talk and noticing
  • a maths issue
    • a sizeable % do remedial maths at university so now finishing year with lots of revision and uni prep. This is an issue Maths is aware of but still committed to PBL notion
My Noticing
  • student work on display everywhere - largely project outcomes and reflections eg

What did I take away?
  • learning connected across a high-interest project, with hands-on opportunities, and a genuine outcome engages students and leads to great learning
    • 95%+ college placement
  • this model works across the demographics
    • 50% students get free lunch
  • it's ok when things get messy (this is a reminder to myself) as long as all parties keep talking
  • learning in the real world makesit real (lots of expert speakers come in to take classes, exhibitions happen, when possible, in communty [art galleries, parks etc].
  • get more student up (like what we do with the elements of the Learning Design Model)
  • even more convinced of the Learning Design Model we use
  • our use of student voice to help determine contexts is something special
That's it from San Diego. I'm looking forward to my experience at the Science Leadership Academy and Chris Lehmann in Philadelphia on Monday.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

High Tech High Point Loma

Today I visited High Tech High at Point Loma in San Diego. On the one site (an ex Forces site) there are 2 High Tech Elementary Schools, 2 High Tech Middle Schools and 3 High Tech High Schools (High Tech High, High Tech High International and High Tech High Media Arts). I explored all 3 High Tech Highs but spent most of my time in High Tech High International.

I was really expecting this visit to be one of the highlights of my sabbatical and I came away a bit disappointed. The disappointment wasn't so much around my interaction with the students and some of my discussions with staff but more around  the visitor experience.

You pay to make a visit here (which is something I am not opposed to) but I must admit I felt a bit like a commmodity. I went on a tour with another visiting teacher which was led by a great student (Liz) who was in her final year. She did a great job of explaining the four year levels of High Tech High International and how the physical spaces worked.

I was then let free to range across the 3 High Schools for an hour and a half. This was quite different to free ranging at our school where the place is more open. Apart from some larger open spaces classes were mainly taught in closed off classrooms so you had to open closed doors and enter. I was surprised how challenging I found this. Despite being told that students and staff were used to visitors and that you could ask them anything I did feel as if I was interupting and, unlike at our school, no one  initiated discussions with you. I came across 12 other visitors in small groups and started to think that may be there are so many visitors that they almost turn a blind eye to you. However, I did have some conversations with students which helped me understand more their approach.

It was then lunch with all of the visitors and 5 staff. It was hard to get a word in. I was the only visitor from overseas and the other groups were flat out asking their questions which, naturally, mainly related to the USA context. I made an attempt to engage in conversation about our context and model to attempt to get a two-way thing going but I was unsuccessful.

After lunch I set off for what looked like an interesting session called Deeper Learning Field Study
which turned out to be another hour of free-ranging. I'd had enough of that by then so found a coffee shop and waited in anticipation for the Leadership Meeting with the Director of High Tech High. Over coffee I prepared my questions which included:

  • In your role, how do you ensure your core principles for learning are kept front and centre?
  • Do you have a well-defined PBL process?
  • Do students have multiple ways of evidencing learning?
  • What does goal setting look like?
Unfortunately, I never got to ask these questions as for reasons not explained that meeting did not go ahead and I joined another student-led tour. While it was a repeat of the morning tour Jazz gave another perspective and I got value out of it - it was like watching a movie for the second time and picking up stuff you missed first time around.

I headed off for my debrief but that person was busy in meetings so I moseyed on out.

Their Model

  • Students have no choice in their subjects
    • each grade level does 6 subjects (3 per semester)
      • they do Maths 1 hour per day for both semesters
      • they do 2 other subjects 2 hours per day for a semester and then pick up 2 more subjects to accompany the maths
      • the 2 non-Maths subjects are taught separately but planned collaboratively
        • Interesting observations:
          • They do no Science in final year (4th year) but they do Chemistry for a semester in Year 1, Physics for a semester in year 2 and Biology for a semester in Year 3. However, they do Engineering in Year 4.
          • They do English combined with History in a subject called Humanities and they do this every year for a semester.

  • Grade composition
    • There are  100 students in each grade level and are divided into 4 classes of 25. Two of the classes do Maths and 2 subjects for a semester while the other 2 do Maths and 2 other subjects. For the next semester the pairs of classes swap so by the end of the year all classes in that grade level have done maths all year and the 4 other subjects.
        • Interesting observations:
          • Each teacher teaches one "class" all year: eg A Humanities Teacher might teach Grade 11 class 1 for 2 hours per day and the same to Class 2. For the second semester they do the same for the next 2 classes. Teachers liked this! While they would definitely personalise the learning activities/projects for each class they were addressing the same learning objectives.
  • Programme construction
    • Teachers determine what is to be learned (the learning objectives).
    • Teachers present possible project ideas
    • Most teachers allow students to suggest project ideas
    • All culminate in some sort of exhibition or product
        • Interesting observations:
          • I talked with students from a Grade 10 Humanities class and they described the course
            • They read the same book (1984)
            • They chose their own character
            • They all had to write an essay
            • They were about to embark on a PBL activity which they weren't clear on yet.
          • I really wanted to ask the question re multiple ways of evidencing learning as I saw lots of examples of neat learning being presented in uniform ways.
  • Teacher reflections
    • Teachers loved teaching the one "class/subject"to one grade level for the year
    • They loved that all of the students in their current class were all doing the one same subject with the same other teacher as this allowed for easier collaboration. In fact, when students were engaged in the PBL part of the semester it was often a project that drew on both subjects and could be completed as one.
  • Advisory
    • These contained about 20 students (5 from each of the 4 year levels). They met twice a week for 30 minutes each time.
    • There is no Advisory curriculum and they were comfortable with that as the focus is on developing relationships and a caring, supportive culture.
        • Interesting observations:
          • One of the teachers I spoke to was a strong Advisor and he said his group largely sat in a circle for the 30 minutes and talked and used a variety of 'games'and activities to build relationships and grow culture.
          • He did say that he knew of an Advisory where they often watched cartoons.
  • X Block
    • This is a 45 minute block per week where students could attend sports practice, go to study hall, work on areas of passion or try new things
  • Internships/Externships
    • 3rd Year Internships (4 weeks before start of 2nd semester)
      • For a 4 week block these students would be on an internship (usually in San Diego but some travel far and wide including internationally - one last year worked in an orphanage in Columbia). They have to work on their internship for 40 hours per week and complete a project.
      • These internships usually have a career focus
      • They present their project on return
      • The teachers of this grade level have no classes for those 4 weeks and are expected to check on the internships.
    • 4th Year Externships (last 4 weeks of the year)
      • They can go off and experience what they like (must be signed off). One dude I spoke with was off to Spain to investigate (I forgot now but it included something about education systems).
      • There is no project to complete or present but they have to blog every day
      • The teachers of this grade level have no classes for that period
What did I take from today?
  • After 3 school visits I have still to meet a school leader (Principal)
    • Remind my team to make sure I meet all visiting groups. This largely happens but I need to ensure it is practice
  • We run bloody good visits, show great hospitality and like to listen to and learn about the context for each of our visiting groups so that we can truly personalise the experience
  • I am even more in love with our model though I still lie awake at night worrying about sustainability for teaching staff
  • Visibility of aspirations and norms
  • Displaying kids'art work throughout the space is cool

  • Kids are the same everywhere. If they have some choice, if they can pursue their passions and if their learning is set in or connected to the real world they will be engaged and best prepared for their lives. I met some wonderful students today who reminded me in so many ways of many of ours.
Tomorrow I'm off to the Chula Vista High Tech High Campus. Here's hoping.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Nueva School

The Nueva School has been open since 2014 and their first graduating class is about to graduate. Their impressive building makes a statement on the developing community in much the same way as does at Honsonville Point. I liked the seating and hire bikes outside the front door. The banners on the lamp post appealed as well and could be a neat way to feature our main entrance.

Getting through the front door provided some challenges for this country boy.
Once inside I was met with the memorabilia shop which could be something that we could think about.
I spent my hour and a half there walking around the school with their Admissions Officer, Davion.
The school is designed to meet the needs of gifted students. Davion was firm in the belief that their pedagogical approach was appropriate for any learner (I agree!) Their school seeks to inspire and challenge students, while equipping them with the academic foundations and social-emotional skills necessary to successfully navigate the transition to college life and beyond. Almost all of their students will be moving on to University. Universities have been telling them that too many students arrive without being able to write competently, having mental health issues (anxiety around schooling) and little resilience and self-regulation - hence their focus on social-emotional skills.

Design Thinking is at the core of their learning model:
I saw some students planning their Quest for next year (similar to our Impact Projects). They go through a structured and scaffolded approach to design thinking at the start of their Freshman Year. This reminds me to check that we are doing so with our Learning Model. Their first Quest spends a lot of time on the design thinking approach which I believe is similar to what we do with our Big Project model.

They run a 5 block day from 8 30 to 3 35. Advisories can meet from 8am to 8 30 or students can access teachers for support. The same is true at the end of lunch (12 50 to 1 20). During the 45 minute lunch break clubs occur or advisories can meet.

It's getting a bit repetitive but they are also driven by the need to personalise learning and for it to be as authentic as possible. I saw lots of evidence of students having multiple ways of evidencing their learning.

Apart from Quest, programmes are largely single-subject, or more accurately, single Learning Area (subjects from the same Learning Area sometimes combine). Their schedule is 8 courses 3 times per week. They choose one from Maths, one from History, Social Science and Civics, one from Lab Science, one from Literature and Communcations, one from Design Thinking, Engineering and Computer Science, one from Arts, one from World Languages and one from Additional Requirements (Quest, Athletics and Wellness, Interdisciplinary Studies, Science of Mind). Once they have met the coverage requirements of each (eg Maths 3 years, Arts 2 semesters in same subject, Interdisciplinary Studies 2 years) they are free to select from wherever and have free time.

Their MakerSpace area was cool (as ours is) and they have a permanent workshop manager based there who only teaches one class (3 blocks out of 24). George is available the rest of the time for students to call upon (prototyping is strongly present here). He had some cool machinery like these desk top things:

Learning Advisories were formed but had no set curriculum or, in fact, meeting times.

The highlight of my visit was an extended conversation with 2 students, Sophia and Celia (friends because their names rhyme). I asked them about things like wider student engagement, cyber bullying and misbehaviour. They responded by talking about being immersed in digital citizenship, about the dual elements of freedom and responsibility, how trust is infectious and the default response to an issue is to "solve a problem, find a solution" and described processes very similar to restorative practice.

What did I take away?

  • personalisation and authenticity, personalisation and authenticity, personalisation and authenticity!
  • Our Learning Design Model (including Project Learning Process) must always be to the front and continually scaffolded. In NZ, it is truly our point of difference
  • I have to find ways to access funds on a reasonably grand scale to increase our staffing resource. Nueva is a private school and generates funds to maintain smallish classes and positions such as Workshop Manager, Writing Support teacher (in response to messages from Universities) who is available 8 00 - 4 30 every day to critique, scaffold writing for any student, Maths Lab (anytime access to Maths support) and Peer Tutoring Co-ordinator (I think this was the writing Support teacher).

  • We run bloody good visits!
  • For a state school, taking all from our community (wouldn't have it any other way!), and trying to prudently manage resources, we are out there!
Now for a debrief with Daniel and Lisa, a long weekend and then off to San Diego to check out High Tech High.