Innovative Teaching and Learning: Lessons from High Tech High’s Founding Principal

Innovative Teaching and Learning: Lessons from High Tech High’s Founding Principal

December 3, 2019 4 By Stanley Isaacs


>>The essential elements I would
list as several integrations. You’re integrating students
across social class. As Thomas Jefferson said “The purpose of public education is
to create a public.” You’re integrating head and hand,
MITs motto and a place like this and John Dewey’s point that
understanding drives from activity. Making and doing things
is a very engaging way and you’ve got to engage them first. You’re integrating school
and community, you don’t want to warehouse kids away from
the world outside them, the world that they’re preparing
to enter as young adults. You want to have lots of people
coming in like we do here and you want the kids
going out on internships, doing community service etc. etc. So
you want the walls to be as permeable as possible and no longer to be
the citadel apart from community like the very first schools were uh.. one thousand years ago. And finally the integration of
secondary and post secondary. Some people well intended and
say we should have programs for non college bound but having
taught carpentry which is presumed to be one of those programs,
the problem with that is that if you create a program
for the non college bound, at the end of the 8th grade the
decision you make about who goes into them is based on socioeconomic
predictors of the education and economic level of one’s parent who might not be doing it
consciously but you’re doing it. So you’re deciding by creating
a program for non college bound that someone’s not going to college. But my hypothesis is that those kids
who ultimately won’t go to college and some will not are better served
if they’re not being segregated from those who are and not
being segregated from programs that expect that they will be. That’s why we’ve got a hundred
kids accepted to college 100%, 99.5% participating in college,
70% going to four year colleges, 50 to 55% first generation
college entrants. That’s why we’re getting those
results because we’ve got that integration across all
those four integrations.>>You’ve got tech and
you’ve got academics and you’re taking the methodology
of tech which is group performed, team taught, experiential applied,
expeditionary, you’re producing and the content of academics,
literacy and numeracy, [inaudible] all the things that
kids need to know and you’re trying to wed the pedagogy of tech,
not the content with the content of academics that’s really the
purpose of sort of restructuring and getting schools like this. That’s MIT, head and
hand is the motto of MIT.>>Why is it that your average
kid regardless of socioeconomic or educational background, if
given an MMO or video game, computer game would left to
their own devices play with it for 10 hours a day for 14
months, even though it was fraught with failure, frustrations,
setbacks and successes but going through and persevering. And some of us think isn’t
there something that we can take from that pedagogically if we were to
change the nature of the transaction and so there’s a lot of opportunity
there so at High Tech High from the beginning we’ve said that you can’t play video
games unless you made them here and they can’t be violent and
they have to be educational. I want kids again producing
not consuming, I want kids making,
making those things.>>So here we have fewer blocks
of time and we integrate art into physics and into biology
by having kids publish books, by having kids create
documentary films instead of saying well every
45 minutes you’re going to jump up and run around. So there’s time to
do things, seriously. The other thing is by having
small teaching teams of a teacher, one teaches math/science, the other
one teaches humanities combined that the two of us
together have 50 kids in a seven period day I teach six out
of seven, I got 28 kids in a class. I’m teaching 180, 190 kids
at one time as opposed to 50, tremendous benefit to that. If you want to integrate pedagogy
of technology with the content of academics and have kids be
producing things and be doing it in an interdisciplinary fashion, teachers need to meet
with each other. If you go into a school
that says they’re doing that and I have visited
schools in 38 states, everyone says they’re doing it and then you say well
do your teachers meet with each other, they say no. I said oh well got a plane to catch. So we knew that we
needed to build that in. So in my school back east
we had a group of teachers that met first period and a group that met fourth period
of a seven period day. Teachers who met fourth period
randomly assigned to first or fourth over three years. The ones who met fourth period talked
about what Billy just did wrong and the ones who met first period
were able to talk about three years from now, it’s something
about human nature and so here when we built High Tech
High we said we’re going to have people meet every morning
of the year in different teams. So on Friday everyone in the whole
school meets, on Wednesday they look at student work, on Tuesday
and Thursday the teachers who share the same kids at the same
time that year, they meet etc. etc. So we have different configurations
of common planning time which allows people to
feel like and behave like they’re treated professionally.>>You want to treat kids with respect and kid’s antennae are very well
tuned to pick up contrivance and fakery and things that
are not fair and not just so you don’t have kid’s bathrooms in adult bathrooms, you
just have bathrooms. You don’t have PA systems that go
off throughout the day making foolish announcements of who should come
to the office where it feels like quazi bus station/police
station. If kids need to go to the bathroom,
they get up and go to the bathroom and just little things, a lot of
little things that all add up because as Voltaire said, suspicion
invites treachery. If you treat kids with
respect they’ll be respectful.>>A lot of people say well they come
in and say well we can’t do this because we don’t have the computers
or we can’t do this because of this or we can’t do this because of that
and I think that actually you can and we did this exercise
yesterday and sort of a gift to whoever might be listening to this called the most memorable
learning experience exercise. It’s simple, you’re in a
cafeteria, you’ve got 100 people from your community, teachers
or whomever and they’re sitting in tables with five or six or seven
to a table and you say to everybody, would you please just spend
five or ten minutes writing down your two most
memorable learning experiences from your high school years. They do that and they you ask
them, would you please all discuss at your table those memorable
learning experiences and come up with the key characteristics that defined what was an important
significant memorable learning experience for you all. And then you’re going to get up
at each table and share those and report back to us and I’m
going to be up with this chart here and I’m going to write
down what they were. I’ve done this in about
28 cities, I’ve done this with my colleagues many times, we did
it yesterday with these architects. I could several pages back on that flip chart I’ve been
tempted sometimes to write down like a card trick person,
what they were going to say because I know what
they’re going to say. What they say is it was a project,
it involved community, it had fear or failure, it had recognition
of success, it had a mentor, it had a public display of work. It had all of the things
that at this point that High Tech High is based on. It had all of the things
that I’m talking about, so then you respectfully
ask a group of teachers, really respectively say well this
was not externally imposed on you, the midwifery that we just did was about your own most memorable
learning experiences. How does this comport
with the way you teach? And if it doesn’t comport with the
way you teach, what can we then do to get you teaching the way
that you yourself learned? Again it wasn’t imposed on
you, this came from within you. That’s a great place to
start with communities, it’s a great place to
start with teachers. I think that what we’re
doing is really obvious.>>For more information on what works in public education
go to edutopia.org