Thoughts – Day 1

Today we found that our group was being joined by a delegation of school leaders and educational district administrators from Boston, who had come to visit HTH with very much the same questions as we had when we came last December. What was clear to me from their very first question of Jesse, our HTH facilitator this time (it was Chris last year) was how far WE have come in our understanding of PBL, and how we are trying to make it work for us. It really affirmed for me the importance and relevance of the trials that have been taking place since January – we are trying out, experimenting and developing – and we are now at a critical stage of identifying what we need to do to make this work for us – for the students in our school and for the staff who teach them.

Pictures from today will really focus once more on the quality of the display. If you remember my previous question from last year – ‘When is a display a display? When it’s stapled to a wall’ – what we were struck by was the quality of the work exhibited in every available space. What I wasn’t prepared for this time was that the majority of these displays had been replaced. These are truly ongoing exhibitions of learning – the final products of all the projects undertaken in every classroom.


Given the overwhelming feeling of headspin that can hit a new visitor to HTH, I decided that I’d ask the team to focus their thoughts on specific questions to try to give today’s experiences a little more structure. They record them below.


Something you were most struck by?

There is an inspiring sense of freedom and trust. As you walk through the school grounds you notice that there are no gates, that the school is very much part of the community. There is an amazing feeling of energy and purpose and yet it is also peaceful.

Something that surprised you?

The happiness. The maturity and articulacy of the students that showed us round especially when we discovered that our guide was going to be the first person from her family to go to college. She is Mexican and was expected to stay at home until she married. The fact that their 6th grade students are just like our Year 7 students and yet are going to develop into the incredible and confident seniors that we also met. The displays in the corridors are spectacular however the displays in classrooms are very like ours. How much we already know as a school. It was empowering to discover that we know more that the Boston delegation.

An idea you had during the day (yes, choose ONLY ONE 🙂

So hard to answer with only one! Liked the fact that parents are invited to POLs – could take the place of a Subject Evening. Creation of classroom libraries.

Best thing you saw

Grade 6 (our Year 7) preparing for their Presentations of Learning – so focused but importantly so similar to our students. Displays. Charity boxes for unwanted clothing by reception desks. No litter.

Something that fell into place for you

We don’t have to get it right first time. Importance of ethos and creation of ‘families’. Trust works.

Questions you’d like answered tomorrow?

Still need to know more about assessment.

More on how the culture and ethos has been established


Something you were most struck by?

The ability of students of all ages to clearly articulate their learning with confidence and obvious understanding. ‘Keeping it simple can lead to the complex – being too complex leads to the simple’.

Something that surprised me?

Teaching rooms were not ‘showrooms’ but active workspaces. The focus was not on displays but on ongoing work/notes scribbled on a wall/window/table – these were places for creativity, experimenting and doing.

An idea you had during the day (yes, choose ONLY ONE 🙂

Can Presentations of Learning become part of Yr 8’s Graduation process into Senior Academy? An opportunity for them to formally share how they have progressed/developed etc and are therefore ready to graduate.

Something that fell into place?

How Presentations of Learning (POLs) work – that they are an opportunity for students to reflect on goals set earlier in the year and the importance of them to students in terms of presenting this to a small audience, including their parents – more personal than the Exhibit.

Questions I’d like answered tomorrow?

How do the logistics of the whole-school exhibition work?

When does planning start and how is it managed within the school as a whole?

Assessment – how can an individual within a group evidence their contribution and therefore be accurately assessed by the teacher?


As the day went on I was most struck by how motivated and full of energy every single member of the community is. Whether you are talking to a student building a bridge or cramming for their assessment or a staff member wandering round their students, they inspire you just by explaining what they are doing. There is one word that keeps coming up. Passion from both students and teachers seems to be what guides most of what they do.
As I was walking around doing classroom observations in the ks4 classes what really surprised me was how many of the classrooms seemed to be missing the teacher, or if they were there could not be identified, yet all the students are completely engaged and either engaged with individual tasks or deep in group discussions.
Of the many ideas I’ve had (or am planning to steal) the most I’m most excited about is using QR codes on works of art that lead to blogs or you tube videos on the subject. The example here that I plan to steal is the physiology and history of disease project, blogging the complexities of their specific diseases and diseases attached to beautiful work on the digestive system.
Trying to figure out the best think I’ve seen today was really difficult but was decided when I saw the video of one of my highlighted pieces of work being made. When we initially worked into our meeting room we saw this incredible piece of wooden art, then on closer inspection we found it had detailed physics concepts on disorder engraved into it. Finding out this was year 10 physics students meant that this end of civilisation piece has to be the best thing I saw. Although the best person was our year 11 tour guide, who despite being one of the most confident and articulate people I’ve met, convinced us that she had been incredibly shy when she first started here.
The one thing that really has fitted into place for me today has been how vital the culture of the school is to everything they do. Everyone just cooperates and makes it all seem so flawless and easy.
I’ve just started to get a picture in my mind of how assessment works across the years so my focus tomorrow will be to clarify this and seem how it fits in with POL and the exhibitions. Very excited to continue learning and meeting even more remarkable people.
Can’t wait to get started now and learn from our own students too!

Engagement, ownership and self management – the three things that struck me the most on the first day of the visit to High Tech High. The school really is amazing. The way students take control of their work is awe inspiring and the level of engagement is immense. If we at SBL can come anywhere close to this then we will have succeeded!

I was surprised by how much control the students have as their projects progress and take shape. The teacher really is just a facilitator.

The best thing I saw today was the project process in action. Lots of work students had created and the pride taken in it. It is clear that students have ownership of their work and they have self managed their own learning.

Today I realised that what High Tech High do is try and plant in all students a love of learning and the ability to problem solve and prepare for the real world. Tomorrow I want to find out where this clashes with the need to teach to state – or in our case – the national curriculum.


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