“I want a school that doesn’t teach kids what to think, it teaches them how to think,” said Larry Ellison. The Oracle founder got what he wanted. A four year old charter high school moved from a warehouse in San Mateo to the new facility on the Oracle campus in January.

Serving 550 high school students, Design Tech High School (@dTechHS) combines personalized learning, design thinking, and maker activities with the goal of forging identities as caring citizens and young professionals.

With the support of Oracle CEO Safra Catz, the Oracle Foundation built a spectacular new building on a sliver between its headquarter towers and the Belmont Slough in Redwood Shores (about half way from San Francisco to San Jose)

The design focus was inspired by nearby Stanford d.School where design is a response to increasing number of problems that are complex and ambiguous.  (We agree that design thinking, like writing and critical thinking, is a priority skill that should be integrated across the curriculum).

Personalization at d.tech

The core values of trust, care and creativity are evident in the culture, practices, schedules and structures of d.tech. It starts with a commitment to know each student personally,

academically, culturally, and cognitively and to use that knowledge to co-construct their learning experience.

About 18 students meet with an advisor every day for 30 minutes (pictured right). The research is clear said d.tech Executive Director Ken Montgomery, an effective advisory system is important but challenging.

On Thursdays, students create their own schedule with support from their advisor. The advisory system also supports the college awareness and application process.

Designing and making at d.tech

Galen McAndrew (right), teaches prototyping to incoming freshmen. The semester course provides a survey of prototyping methods. In this course they concentrate on individual projects because Galen wants each student to experience success in each prototyping medium.

Wayne Brock (left) a Purdue trained mechanical engineer is the other half of d.tech’s maker team. In the Design Realization Garage (DRG) he teaches a year long engineering course for juniors and seniors. About halfway through the course, students develop proposals for a final engineering project.

“I include voice and choice in every assignment moving from more constraints to less constraints,” explained Brock.

“We provide access to tools and materials, ranging from traditional woodworking to high-tech modern fabrication, such as 3D printing and laser cutting. Students access the DRG through elective courses, design challenges, independent passion curiosity projects, and to make projects targeted at demonstrating competency in core courses,” explained Galen.

The autonomous school doesn’t have a formal relationship with Oracle but the 8,000 high tech workers on the campus offer rich internship and mentorship opportunities. Montgomery would like to see more public-private co-location partnerships like d.tech.

Cool space for a cool school

There is no gym at d.tech but students have access to a fitness center on the Oracle campus (the basketball team was playing there the night we visited). Students have started more than 40 clubs and teams.

Inspired by High Tech High in San Diego, the space is anchored by four neighborhoods of four connected classrooms with movable walls and common spaces (top and bottom above). The big makerspace is right off the entryway (below). Glass walls bring in natural light and offer views of the greenbelt.

d.tech got its start with support from Silicon Schools Fund and Next Generation Learning Challenges. They have also received support from CZI And the Gates Foundation.

Podcast key takeaways

[:19] An introduction to d.tech.
[1:05] How the new facility has helped shape new behavior and productivity, and the backstory on how they came to work with Oracle.
[3:55] Where the campus is located and how many people it houses.
[4:47] Why D.Tech’s focus on design thinking was so important to Oracle.
[6:42] Galen Andrew, Director of Design Realization Garage, on his class and prototyping.
[10:44] In Galen’s class, is it all individual work or are students working collaboratively?
[11:37] About the diverse student body and architecture of the space at d.tech.
[13:57] The extracurriculars at d.tech.
[14:47] Does Ken think he’ll see more school corporation partnerships in the future?
[15:50] About the design lab.
[17:30] The core functions of advisory at d.tech.
[20:43] What research says about advisory.
[22:30] About the new space at d.tech, and the inspiration they drew from High Tech High.
[23:13] The new program d.tech is about to roll out: a peer-tutoring system, designed by a student at d.tech.

Mentioned in this episode

Design Tech High
Oracle Education Foundation
High Tech High
S2:E47 Making the City the Text at High Tech High

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