In last week's posting, I explained the purposes for visiting High Tech High in San Diego with a team of colleagues from the middle school and high school. We were looking for a school community successful in creating a school culture that combines a challenging academic curriculum with project-based learning, performance-based assessments, digital portfolios, and internships for all students. The team and I, as well as the teams representing 17 other Hawaii schools receiving Schools-of-the-Future grants, learned first-hand from within the classrooms and talking with teachers and students, how HTH functions. Here are my impressions:
HTH is composed of a diverse study body. Admission to this fully
accredited public school is by lottery, so students are accepted from
all socio-economic levels. 100% of the graduating class is accepted to
some of the best colleges in the nation, and the students are among the
top scorers on statewide-standardized tests in San Diego. Graduates
report being confident when working with adults and feeling prepared
for the junior and senior levels of college because of their
experiences at HTH.
Classroom spaces are fairly large and
spacious with high ceilings and large windows that open to hallways and
outside areas. Art is everywhere, although HTH is not an art school.
The paintings, robotic constructions, structures hanging from ceilings,
and murals are all student-designed and are the result of classroom
inquiries and projects. If the environment is the third teacher, a
Reggio Emilia principle, then HTH's environment tells the stories of
student learning. It's apparent that art is one of the means for
processing and communicating understanding. Art is a language for
communication and thinking, which is another familiar Reggio Emilia
principle, though this is not a Reggio Emilia-inspired school.
HTH, everyone takes the same level of classes. Everyone is held to the
same high standards and expectations for learning. No honor classes, no
remedial classes, no IB program, no gifted and talented, no advanced
classes. If students need extra help, teachers work with these
students in small groups as needed. In every classroom I visited, there
was a pervasive sense of purposefulness -- students engaged in writing,
working in small groups, conferring with peers, directing questions to
a teacher, or collaborating in front of computers. And the teachers --
walking from group to group in a classroom, asking questions, looking
at writing and notebooks, recording student comments on the board, in
discussion with other colleagues, or listening to students explain a
prediction. There were no students loitering in the hallways or
restrooms. Everyone was either in class or on their way to class.
Students who spoke with us or whose conversations we overheard seemed
articulate and bright.
Learning is project-based -- students
create something or do something to understand a concept and to
demonstrate learning. The curriculum, designed by the faculty, must
incorporate California's learning standards, so it is rigorous and
highly academic. The projects take many forms -- simple machines,
designing and constructing a potato gun to learn about trajectory,
building a submersible, reverse engineering, stop-animation videos, a
math casino night, a project about time travel. Many projects are
interdisciplinary and require team-based problem solving strategies.
We learned about a project called "Media Save the Beach" that students
designed after learning that the state of California cut funding to
periodic water testing of San Diego locales. Students collected water
samples and informed the public about locales that should be avoided
due to water contamination. Students wrote a field guide, currently
available on Amazon, that the general public can purchase. Students
are given individual letter grades on projects, not group grades, so
every student is held accountable for an aspect of the project from
beginning to end.
The "final exam" is typically an evening
presentation of learning to an audience of mostly parents, though other
students and members of the community also attend. Each
student describes his learning process, the challenges, the
significance of the project and its relevance to the "real" world.
Parents also come to the school each quarter to attend a student-led
conference wherein the student reviews her progress via an electronic
portfolio. Reflection is a critical part of the learning process, and
students stop along the way in their projects to reflect on their
The faculty at HTH view themselves as facilitators
of their students' learning. They are passionate about their teaching,
and their enthusiasm inspires their students to learn. They are
genuinely respectful of their students. To build community and
strengthen student-teacher relationships, every teacher is responsible
for a cohort or advisory of 20 students from across the grade levels.
Teachers meet daily for 45 minutes before students enter the campus so
that they can collaborate on the curriculum and projects. Teacher
offices, located throughout the school, have glass fronts so the
teachers are highly visible to their students.
I have not
reported anything about the elementary school affiliated with HTH
because Explorer Charter Elementary has done little or no collaboration
with HTH. However, I can report that my visit to Explorer
Elementary revealed that MPI's preschool and elementary are quite
progressive terms of curriculum, instructional practices, and
assessment of student learning. My visit to HTH was nonetheless very
important because I could see a school model in HTH that embodies many of the
characteristics of a "school of the future."
Tuesday evening, November 3rd, at 6:30pm in Bakken auditorium, Tony
Wagner, author of The Global Achievement Gap, will speak to all parents
of students in independent and private schools in Hawaii. If you would
like to learn more about the impetus for school change, I urge you to
attend his presentation. Mr. Wagner will also spend the day at MPI
visiting classes this Thursday, meeting with students and faculty and
other representatives of constituent groups.
reminder: The order deadline for the PCA's gift card fundraiser is
this Friday, November 6. No late orders will be processed. Please
submit your order and payment to our office.
It's not too late to attend Tuesday's presentation. You are on this journey with us.
For our children,
Edna L. Hussey Principal
Written by Dr. Edna Hussey
Elementary School Principal
on November 1, 2009