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.


Lisa said...

Shame the experience wasn't as positive as anticipated but thanks for sharing!

Noeline said...

It's so interesting that the school has a traditional timetable. Does its structure affect the thinking and what is valued at the school?