High Tech High: Student Engagement Leads to Deeper Learning

With folks from the Hewlett Foundation and a group of  Deeper Learning schools and advocates, I toured the MIT of public education, High Tech High today.

I’ve been there at least a dozen times but I’m always floored by the student artwork. Here are two students expanding on a SketchPad art they produced to illustrate how genetic switches (contributed by parents on either side) influence our life.
The hallways are full of student art. The art and project-based pedagogy is a big part of why more than 85% of HTH grads finish college: students ask tough questions, they are comfortable sharing their work, and they build sustained relationships with their instructors and advisors.
Rob Riordan, President of the HTH Graduate School of Education said, “Curriculum is not development; kids are developmental.” The school is lottery-based and draws from San Diego County. Riordan said, “We’re very wedded to the cohort model with an emphasis on equity and diversity.” There are not many electives on the master schedule but “lots of choices within each course.” Students are known well by several adults and feel well supported.  Below is a picture of a quick writing intensive in a pod shared by four classrooms.
Big ideas grow in big spaces. HTH International is another high school in the 12 school network and it sits across the parking lot from HTH.  The network hires smart content experts and creates a lot of room for them to experiment as teachers. Riordan said, “They look at state standards, but they start with their passion and engage students.”
Edrick Macalaguim is a teacher at High Tech Middle Chula Vista (a school we profiled this summer). He said, “Attending HTH GSE changed my life and my teaching.” He and his colleagues are deploying a full integration model with projects like EIEI Grow which examines the food cycle and incorporates science and Socratic seminars.
The graduate school helps the network afford really talented teacher coaches. Every day starts with an hour of faculty meetings.  Edrick said, “It’s my favorite part of the day.”
Teachers work in grade level teams of four in glass classrooms connected to glass offices with a shared common area (pictured below).
Founder Larry Rosenstock said “Rules suck the oxygen out of the room.” (See 10 more Rosenstock quotes about creating a school that values perplexity). The consistent rule across all the HTH schools we visited today was students engaged in and sharing real work.

For more, see the Deeper Learning blog series  on Getting Smart.

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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