The Visit Days 1-3

Bristol to San Diego – Beginnings

27th November, SBL staff who are working on the development of our new curriculum will visit some of the High Tech High Charter Schools in San Diego, as the first step of a professional exchange of learning and innovative development to support the creation of our new curriculum. The first and ‘original’ High Tech High school in the centre of the city is made up of 570 students who follow a wholly project-based curriculum, whilst still adhering to the ‘common core standards’ of the American education system – similar to our National Curriculum levels for KS3 and KS4.

We are hoping to find out a lot about a very different way of working. At High Tech High, project-based learning drives the curriculum, and it is teachers who develop the projects together.

This section of the new Professional Learning website aims to cover all the questions that SBL staff have put to David, Dan, Jane, Tracy and Sarah. You can find their thoughts, ideas and responses underneath their own sections of the website. We hope to find out enough about HTH’s extraordinary pedagogy to be able to answer all questions, and start to formulate our own driving questions as a school.

A post will be written each evening to share some of our reflections. Look on the Learning Visit to High Tech High for our individual responses to your questions.

In the meantime, there are some useful links here:

Introduction to Projects at HTH

and a short introduction to the work of HTH by the Emperor of Rigour himself, Larry Rosenstock.

Day 1: First impressions

We ask questions of our students all the time. ‘What did you learn?’ ‘What is your target?’ ‘What was our lesson objective today?’ ‘What time do you call this?’ ‘Would you do that at home?’

Our lessons are punctuated with questions – both from the floor – teacher – and from the audience – students. Today, our first incredible day in San Diego, all our questions were directed towards teachers and students. The only difference was that it was your questions that we were asking of the students and staff of High Tech High.

As an initial post, this one will be brief, with a much more detailed blog to follow. But we did want to share with you some of most valuable reflections to come out of today’s enquiry:

1. High Tech High values the learning of its students. And the students, perhaps even more importantly, value their own learning, the process that led them there, and the difference it will make to them.

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2. There is an incredible relationship between student and teacher – from Year 7 up to Year 13. An absolute trust on both sides exists – trust that ensures that each student, regardless of ability, is motivated to do his or her best. And again, that best is always visible:

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3. A most inspiring and heartening revelation: that the students here accept that with any given project they might fail – but we were struck by their quiet expectation that they would deal with it, and create/make/write/produce something better because it will help them, not because ‘I said so’. This really was resilience in action.

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Day 2: Perspectives

Today, questions were answered. As we became more immersed in the methods used by both teachers and students to create, critique, fine-tune and carry out projects in both middle and high schools, we came closer to understanding and qualifying the sense of freedom that has permeated our visit so far.

We have learnt an incredible amount in a short space of time. We have gained a much deeper understanding of how the process of PBL works here – the set-up, the critique, the assessment and the exhibition. We have experienced the freedom of open classrooms, with their ethos of transparent teaching and learning. We have learnt how liberating it feels to be given permission to fail – as teachers – when projects don’t work. We have learnt that what appears unstructured is in reality always well-planned and scaffolded.

At the heart of this curriculum, just as exists at the heart of ours, is an undeniable commitment to the students’ engagement and learning. But what is immediately visible, audible, palpable even, is the passion that these teachers exude, be it for the creation of short stories about the scientific elements, or a for a set of graphs which combine to create an identity wall for a new Year 7 group.

What has enthused us most is the conviction that, with communication and collaboration, we can take many of the innovative aspects of the HTH structure and look at how it might work back home. We are looking forward to sharing our thoughts with you. Look at SSa’s questions for more about display/exhibition. More about process tomorrow – our final day.

Picture of the day:

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Day 3: Awesome!

Ok, maybe that is a little bit tongue-in-cheek. We have, however, a glossary of new words to try out on you. For example, at Monday’s CT meetings, why not try ‘popcorning out’ some ideas around feedback, or groupwork? How about making some of those schemes of work ‘sticky’, and ‘getting down and dirty’ with some of those projects?

In our daily briefing together, a reflection common to us all has been how valuable it is to be immersed in another school’s culture. We have gone from a state of – quite frankly – bewilderment, to being able to discern depth in a variety of guises in the teaching and learning that goes on here. It has also been interesting (and a bit of a relief!) to realise that this school, which develops and innovates just as ours does, also faces literacy and numeracy challenges, also has to work to motivate some of its students, also excludes, and also works hard to preserve its core design principles. Stepford this ain’t.

So, although we have come here to see how a curriculum can be successfully and passionately driven by a project-based learning approach, we know that our constantly-evolving work to strengthen our own core (both curriculum and pastoral) will be key to developing some of these methods ourselves.

Dan, Tracy and David will be answering some of their individual questions by the end of the weekend, and I will add to my section too – it would be great if you could take a look.

Later y’all (no ‘z’s round here)

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