Friday, May 26, 2017

NYC iSchool - final school visit

It says Chelsea Vocational College but nyc ischool is the 4th and 5th story

Top 2 floors are nyc ischool
I must admit I was disappointed with Andrew Little's automatic, knee-jerk opposition to the concept of  "urban schools" that Nikki Kaye floated soon after I set off on my sabbatical travels. The 2 schools I have enjoyed the most on this trip have been so called  urban schools that operate on some of the floors of an existing office building in urban areas with ready access to transport, parks and libraries etc (in fact everything an urban centre has). Schooling needs innovative, ''out of the box" thinking to return to being relevant, not automatic oppostional positions by politicians. I hope someone in Labour thinks  more deeply about this concept. Give me an urban office building packed full of effective pedagogy and a relevant engaging curriculum any day!

I spent almost 2 hours with the very busy, but welcoming and wonderful Isora Bailey, Principal of NYC iSchool.

This school has been operating for 11 Years with Isora as Principal for the last 5. As she took me through the principles that drove their learning design I was impressed with her openness about what was working well, what needed improvement and what were the biggest challenges.

She started by sharing the "Big Rocks", or Pillars, which underpin learning design and drove all decisions in the same way "Innovate, Engage and Inspire" does at our school.

The foundations for their pillars (Real World Relevance, Choice and Responsibility, and Developmentally Appropriate) are familiar themes in schools that aspire to be more relevant for young people.

Students at each Grade Level take 5 Core Experience courses and 1 Module per quarter when they reselect a new set (this happens each quarter). 

Core Experiences
The lower grade levels have more compulsory Core Experience Courses but as they move up through the grades they have more freedom to choose. Core Experience Courses are usually, but not always, provided to a set grade level. At Freshman level the course titles all begin with "ï" and across the 4 quarters cover i learn, i research, i analyse, i argue. An example of a Freshaman English Course which goes for a quarter is iAnalyse and its course description is:

In the second quarter, students will read, compare, and analyze a selection of fiction and non-fiction literature, focusing on how the author develops the theme and/or central idea through the text's structure, development, and order of ideas. Students will also address various methods of constructing an argument in their own writing. Students will continue with the theme they selected for their first quarter iLearn course.

Included in the Core Experiences are an offering of Electives, mostly open to all grades (some have prerequisites) that a student can select once they have included their compulsory courses. An example of a Science one is  "Physics of Super Heroes" and its description is:

Physics of Super Heroes is designed to have students ask questions about the physical reality of comic books such as: can spider silk really support the weight of Spiderman as he swings from building to building; how much food would the Flash need to eat to be able to run as quickly as he does; how would Superman be able to leap over buildings in a single bound? Through answering these and other questions students will learn about general physics concepts and equations.

Modules (open to all grades)
These are intensive, nine-week interdisciplinary courses developed around real-world challenges. Modules are designed to develop students' understanding of big ideas and broad global concepts, and their development and application of 21st century skills. Modules are developed with real work and real world challenges in mind. Both the content and skills students learn each day contribute to their understanding of the task or challenge, provide content-related context, and enable them to complete the challenge with a high level of quality. 

Astrobiology is an example:

What are the origins of life on Earth, and what is its fate?  Is there life elsewhere in the Universe, and if so how do we find it?  These are the questions concerning scientists in the emerging field of astrobiology, the study of life in the universe.  For the last decade astrobiology has been one of the most productive branches of science, with a nearly constant stream of new discoveries.  For example, we have identified and confirmed over 1,741 planets orbiting distant stars.  We have also discovered that life can exist and thrive in environments previously believed to be too hostile.  In this class students will explore the major concepts of Astrobiology including the characteristics of life, the physical and chemical conditions necessary for life, and the search for habitable worlds in our solar system and beyond.  Students will use their understanding of astrobiology to design and curate an engaging and educational Astrobiology museum exhibit.

All courses have an element of being on-line so that students can progress at own rate from anywhere. Some courses have a large % delivered on-line eg languages have one face-to-face lesson per week with the other (2 or 3?) being on-line with students completing that in a Silent Working Commons (supervised Study Hall).

Grading Policy
Grades are achieved  in all courses by displaying mastery and students cannot move on until they have displayed this. This might be by way of a test or by the collectionn of evidence in a  range of ways.

All students are in a grade level Advisory. They meet twice a week for 15 minutes and once a week for 45 minutes. For the weekly 45 minute session there are set lessons depending on thhe grade level that all teachers follow and deliver at the same time. During the 15 minute sessions teachers focus on building and mainntaining relationships and keeping students focused on their goals. Each teacher is  given a timetabled block of Advisory preparation. (Each teacher also gets a timetabled 1 hour of department meeting time).

Field Experiences
This describes an internship model. Isora, however, quite happily admitted that this was not operating strongly as they have had difficulty in finding enough partners for placements so only a  small number of students participate. This  is an area she wishes to problem-solve.

Teachers are contracted to be on-site until 4pm. Classes finish at 3 20. Staff meet on Mondays from 3 20 - 4 00pm. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays all staff are "on the floor" (my words) until 4pm to be available  for students who need help or support of any type. See you later on Friday at 3 20!

They have 3000 apply from Middle School for the 130 places. They use own screening to get 2000 to do an on-line activity and submit a written piece stating why they should go to this school. They then submit 800 names they would happily have to the State who use an algorithm to allocate kids to schools throughout the city. They get the 130 this software produces.

Isora described her biggest challenges as ensuring staff ongoing commitment to the foundations of their pillars and to guaranteeing consistency of teacher judgement for passing courses. As well, she is often dealing with parent push-back in relation to their model despite its approach being very clear from the outset. She says she consistently worries whether they are preparing their kids in the best possible way (however, she is confident they are). Her highlight is knowing that the kids can carry on being themselves and not be subjected to the one-size-fits-all approach.

What Have I Taken Away From This Visit

  • The space is nothing special (looks like converted offices or it's a very old school building) but the pedagogy, driven by real world relevance and student choice and inquiry, was not being held back.

Pedagogy has nothing to do with thhe Space

Silent Commons

  • I loved the many mixed grade courses (it is not uncommon to find Grade 9 - 12 in same course). I think 3 years of NCEA does limit our opportunities in this area.
  • Leaders of innovative schools face the same issues with parent push-back. I believe this is worsened with NZ's competitive enrolment processes driven by competition for resourcing. I hate to admit it but I am starting to think if we could put in a  "special character"  filter it might be worth considering opening up our enrolments!@#*
  • Isora has reminded me of the importance of  having all learning design decisions driven by the key set of principles.
  • I interacted with students much less here than in my other visits but I was privileged to spend the whole time with the Principal. I enjoyed the 2 way conversation about leading schools and felt the visit was all about making sure I got out of it what was important for me.
  • Great principals always worry about whether they are doing enough for their kids.
  • Students posing and/or tackling big questions is a great driver of engaged and deep learning.
  • Reading the course and module descriptions (some quoted above) reminded me so much of our Modules.
Well, that's the last of my scheduled visits for thhis part of my sabbatical. Shortly we head back to  San Francisco and after a couple of days we head back to Aotearoa. My job is to pull together what I have seen and thought about to guide future development of HPSS, hopefully provide other schools with some areas of thinking to carry on their journies of transformation, and to help create the impetus for my continuing journey in educational leadership.

I might do a lot of that thinking out loud.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Love this post Maurie. I have copied the astrophysics module idea to our foundation science module preparation for semester 2 doc (credited to the i-school of course) as it sounds perfect for our semester 2 big ideas of innovation, transformation and socio-scientific issues. I thought it could integrate with any of the other subjects and also that someone in science might be excited by the you said its sounds like something we would do. It would be interesting then to hook up with teachers at NYC i-school who taught the module there to compare learning stories and outcomes.
Also the idea you expressed "I loved the many mixed grade courses (it is not uncommon to find Grade 9 - 12 in same course). I think 3 years of NCEA does limit our opportunities in this area." is really only limited @HPSS by our thinking...what really is stopping this? I think we could do it if there are sound reasons a to why.

Also I love the pillars thing...I have seen similar in some NZ using the poles of a fale for example. Could we do similar for HPSS with our values with a whare??Would love that. Enjoy the last days of your wonderful overseas learning journey. Looking forward to the story hui when you return