Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Design Thinking + Find, Develop, Use Technology = DesignTech High School

So this is where I kicked off with my school visits in the Silicon Valley. Daniel Birch and Lisa Squire from HPPS came along as well.  They had started their visits the day before and you can see Daniel's post and Lisa's post with their reflections from their visit to Brightworks.

DesignTech High School, like us, opened in 2014 and their first cohort graduates in 2018. The vision for their school closely matches ours so I was very keen to see how hey have brought that to life. The Mission on their website reads:

At, we believe that students are most successful when their education is personalized to their needs, and they are asked to use their knowledge to improve the world around them. " Dr. Ken Montgomery.
Design Tech High School makes students innovation-ready by helping them develop skills that are critical to success in the 21st century - skills like collaboration, creativity, self-management, and communication. Students develop these skills by building deep content knowledge and learning important problem-solving skills. The two principles that guide our educational model are extreme personalization and putting knowledge in action.
On arrival we met Julie Abraham! who was to be our host for the morning. Despite our best intentions we were unable to create a family connection, but it was uncanny when she started her presentation to us. She painted the same picture on the state of current schooling and the urgent need for change and what that change should look like that I do with our many visitors to our school. She spoke of stressed students, university dropouts, conflicted parents, subject siloisation and conveyor belt schooling. I liked her analogy of kids as cyclists biking faster and faster, competing with the rest of the field, but getting no nearer the finishing line.
The key principles that drove their learning design were personalisation and authenticity. Where have I heard that before? She also talked of the challenges that start-up schools like hers and ours face particularly in relation to the pressures from parents to revert to the norm, especially in relation to iincessant assessment and grading. Her approach to riding through that storm was to be "unalterably clear on what we are about and to not waver". I talk about this as being clear  on what we will "die in the ditch for".
Design thinking as promoted by D.School is a key driver of their approach. 
They capture the idea of personalisation through the ongoing search to "try to find everyone's super power". They see personalisation as being based on the concept of choice. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays are devoted to Academics (we didn't get too much of an explanation of how that looked and couldn't see iit in action as it was a MAPS testing day). They did seem to follow a 2 week unit cycle beginning with comprehension check which was a process of using multiple means to assess each student's prior learning, followed by a Performance Task (which seemed quite prescribed) and culminating in a Unit Exam (which seemed quite open). The PT was often a bit of a test or essay (with choice of topic or context) and the UE seemed more creative.
Tuesdays and Thursdays were Labs. 4 blocks ran a day and each day at the start a student would select which Labs they will attend. Their LMS printed a schedule on which there may be a referral for them to attend (a compulsory session). It was up to teachers to refer students to these via the LMS. Where they did not have referrals they could select eiither the Design Garage (MakerSpace), Office Hours (individual or small group access to a teacher), PAB (independent work) or Fitness. This was a ramped up version of our Floor Time.

They capture the idea of authenticity through suspending thhe timetable for 2 weeks 4 times a year. Across those 10 days the mornings are dedicated to d.lab into which students opt for the 2 weeks to work on a solution to  a real-world problem. During this they follow a rigorous design process. This reminded me of our Big Project element in our curriculum. In the afternoons they work on intersessions which has the intention of "exposing them to interesting things"". These are all  delivered by outside partners and can happen on or off-site. They could be mini internships or being exposed to new interests and skills. Teachers are freed up during these 10 afternoon blocks to participate in professional learning.
Because of the  testing regime that was underway we did not talk with any students or see any of the learning in action. The school was in borrowed  premises (a converted warehouse - which had many advantages) but because of their developed relationship with Larry Elison and Oracle were moving into a purpose-built facility in January. Talking with Julie had many advantages as she had come there from Nueva School (where I am visiting on Thursday). Unfortunately we did not get to talk with Dr Ken but we passed briefly in the corridor.
What did I take away?
  • DesignTech and HPSS are skinning the cat in similar  ways (this was affirming).
  • The concept of FloorTime must be  preserved and further enhanced
  • Both schools face similar obstacles when swimming upstream
  • I was reminded of the whanaungatanga and manaakitanga we display through our hosting process
  • Reminded of the importance of moral purpose and courage (one without the other is no good)
Now I'm looking forward to the visit to Nueva School on Tthursday.
Of course, if you follow my Facebook posts you'll see  the other attractions provided by this wonderfulsabbatical opportunity. (Though I'm still missing you all at HPSS).


Bruce Hammonds said...

Another great day Maurie. Guess it is hard to capture in words all you are experiencing - I think back to my fleeting visit to your school! You are seeing lots of confirming things - authenticity,personalisation etc. This big testing thing is very American

Unknown said...

Love that this has reinforced your courage to hold a strong vision.
Interested in their d.lab version of Big Project Maurie - what are the benefits do you think of doing it regularly over a longer period or in a condensed block? Does that look different at different ages (foundation to qualification say)?

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