The Sundance Experience

This week I was honored to be invited to the 2015 Sundance Film Festival to attend the premier of the film Most Likely to Succeed, a take on the problems with the American education system and efforts toward refreshing the way that our world should learn. Over the last two years director Greg Whiteley and his crew have been following me and other teachers at High Tech High as we have planned and progressed through projects.

I appreciate the take that Greg chose for the film. Though my school is clearly the featured solution, I felt like his thesis was that “other options need be explored” and that High Tech High was an exemplar, not a prescription.

Getting ready for the premier of "Most Likely To Succeed" at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival
Getting ready for the premier of “Most Likely To Succeed” at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival

Eventually the film will be available to the public and I can’t wait for a screening of some sort in San Diego. If anyone wants more information about the film and its purpose visit these links.


Exhibition Week 2014 Part 2…I’m Impressed

During my first few years teaching one of my mentors instilled a mantra in me.

“Be the one who notices.”

We all go through life and school and careers seeking some sort of validation for our time and our effort. I see it in students everyday. Teenagers who are caught between childhood and adult life try to get attention by choosing styles, latching on to a genre of music or working their way into a certain crowd or clique. Sometimes it is beautiful to see them find community and friendship. Sometimes I cringe at the trajectories they choose and the way they present themselves on their Twitter feed.

I like to think of our school as a place where anyone and everyone can be noticed and valued. If you are a wandering student, you will find a place. If you are a wandering teacher, you have a chance to find your practice. At High Tech High, projects, presentations and exhibitions are both tools for assessment and avenues for sharing and valuing time and effort. I walked a lap around campus yesterday with the specific goal of “noticing”.

Cat Ladder
Students turn a junkyard broken ladder into a cat tree for an animal rescue organization.
Shadow Boxes
Sarah and her 10th grade students construct frames for displaying her “Shadow Boxing Quadratics” math project.
Junk 1
11th grade students build furniture out of junkyard material for non-profit organizations.
File Cabinet
11th graders pose with an art and storage easel they made out of junkyard filing cabinets.
11th grade students build furniture out of junkyard material for non-profit organizations.
Junyard 2
11th grade students build furniture out of junkyard material for non-profit organizations.

It’s exciting to see great work and even more satisfying to find alumni from my 9th grade class thinking and making with care and intent. They are shining. I think others will be hard pressed not to “notice”.

Exhibition Week 2014…Some Observations

“It’s the most strenuous wonderful time of the year!”

Our class is tenaciously preparing for the annual All-School Exhibition Night this coming Thursday. Throughout the school students are building, designing, decorating, and setting up displays of all kinds of work. It is a season of “showing-off” the amazing learning that has happened and the creativity of our school’s students and teachers. As the week ramps up I have a few thoughts:

  • Teacher Thoughtfulness Begets Student Thoughtfulness

I am amazed at the connection between inspired teaching and engaged learning. Over the past few weeks my own vision and pedagogy have been challenged and inspired by colleagues who are actively pursuing the art of teaching. Their practices are being transformed by their willingness to think critically about assignments and projects, to plan work that is authentic and transparent, and to approach their job holistically. Some examples of my colleagues’ work :

Brian the Astronautical Space Voyager                                                           Sarah’s Quadratics Project                                                                                  Blair’s Project Outline

  • Show Your Work

Often project-based learning lives or dies by the success of the products that students design and create. This “proof is in the pudding” model of assessment is fine for engaging students in rigorous culture of “getting it done”, but too often we lose sight of the importance of showing the learning process. Exhibitions should include examples of the project journey. Final products should be accompanied by drafts, critiques and models. Students shine when their audience realizes the complexity and enormity of what has been synthesized in the product(s) they create.

  • Take Risks

I have loved walking the halls and observing students using new tools, working with new mediums and integrating multiple content areas.  Learning is happening. Credit goes out to the teachers who are trying new things, building something crazy, designing politely subversive curriculum and pressing-on in progressive education.

The Cube
Students in my class building a giant rotating cube with my teaching partner and I inside. #takerisks #integration
Tool organization and display.
Math Displays
Students building frames for displaying their math projects.
Greek Plays
Students running stage lights and rehearsing Greek plays.
Essays and Mechanical Poetry
Students editing research papers and displaying mechanical poetry art pieces.