We were sent to High Tech High and the Deeper Learning Conference with questions, and we brought back a heap of answers.
You can read our on the ground impression here after Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 of the conference. Before we headed to the conference we also asked others who had seen the documentary “Most Likely to Succeed” to provide us with their own questions. We tried as best we could to answer them, splitting the work up between our Principal Nicholas Varricchio and ourselves. You can read our answers here. If you haven’t seen the film, and would like to, you can still see the film here. And of course, if what you’ve read about our visit sparks new questions, feel free to leave us something in the comments
That’s the prompt we were asked to think about during day one of the 2018 Deeper Learning Conference. We were expecting to learn about Project Based Learning and High Tech High when we signed up for this conference. We were caught off guard by the tone of the day. High Tech High played second fiddle to a much bigger idea, Deeper Learning. The day started with 1200 educators in the High Tech High forum, with a salsa band playing energetic Latin-influenced grooves. When they started to cover “Descpacito” and educators cut loose and started dancing, Jamie asked “is this Woodstock for teachers?”. There was definitely an energy and buzz right from the beginning of the day. So what is Deeper Learning? Deeper Learning is...modelling the growth we want to see in our students. Carlos R. Moreno, in his Keynote, stated that “Vulnerability is a part of good pedagogy”. If we believe in teaching students the soft skills that they need to be successful in life, we have to model our own risk taking and willingness to be open and honest. “We, as educators, need to be brave enough to share our own stories.” Deeper Learning is…teaching our students to be competent. There is a model to Deeper Learning and at its core lies six competencies. 65% of the jobs that today’s students will have haven’t been invented yet. Armed with these competencies, students will be better equipped to work and learn in the world that is changing exponentially.
Deeper Learning is…a path to equity. Lindsay Hill said in her keynote that the system of school has been created using historical structures, put in place throughout our history to keep certain groups oppressed.” “We need to think about critical consciousness, racial equity, gender equity, classism, we need to talk about all of the ‘isms’ in our systems if we are TRULY about deeper learning.” The more we can talk about our biases, the more we can be the educators our young people need and deserve.
Deeper Learning is...trying something new, taking faith that the outcome may be unclear, but that growth and deeper learning as educators is guaranteed. Michelle Clark, Co-Director of the Share Your Learning Campaign encouraged everyone to push out beyond their comfort zone. As educators we were encouraged to leave our comfort zone, and to try something new.
Deeper Learning is...giving students agency over their own education. As Michelle said in her introduction, “We don’t give students voice, they already have one. We just decentralize our leadership roles so that they can try them on to see the leaders they will become. Many educators are attending this conference because they want to make school different. Gia Truong spoke about equity and how we can help our students feel like they belong. If we can agree that we don’t like the story of school, perhaps it is time to change the storyteller. Giving students more voice in their education is one way to do this.
"When our students feel like they belong, they are more motivated and engaged” "That’s our vision - kids that feel UNSTOPPABLE!" - @gia_envision#DL2018
Deeper Learning is...Beautiful work. Ron Berger, of Austin’s Butterfly fame, talked about the power of beautiful work: work that is not necessarily visually beautiful, but work that is made of actions in service of, actions of passion, actions of equity, of social justice. Social Justice is needs to be at the core of the curriculum. Deeper Learning is...evolving. We are floored by how full our brains feel. Both of us are looking forward to learning more tomorrow and refining our own personal definition of what Deeper Learning is.
Over the past year, many Halton teachers have been given the opportunity to watch the documentary Most Likely to Succeed. Some of us watched it at evening screenings at various schools. Some schools screened the film during their Professional Development days. Others have been given the opportunity to watch the film on their own.
If you haven’t seen it yet, Most Likely to Succeed follows a group of Grade Nine students as they attend their first year school at High Tech High, a school that focuses on Project Based Learning in San Diego.
The Staircase to Nowhere Project
If you teach in the Halton District School Board, you can find instructions on how to watch the full documentary here. If you don’t work for our board, there are ways to screen a copy in your school or board. It’s worth it!
We have lots of questions about how High Tech High delivers its curriculum. We are fortunate to be attend the Deeper Learning Conference at the school next week and hope to get our questions answered. If you have seen the documentary and have some questions that you’d like answered, please feel free to add them to this document.
Last year, Halton was able to send 25 teachers to the 2017 OAME Conference. There was lots of good learning and discussions during the three day conference. What many realized was that there wasn’t much of a secondary conversation after the conference. People were inspired, but what was lacking was a way to share that inspiration with other teachers in the board. Enter Janet Juby and Laura Gatey, who were inspired enough to propose a Halton Mini-Conference in order to promote sharing. Part of this mini-conference was a series of Ignite talks. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, participants get 20 slides that auto advance after 15 seconds, giving you five minutes to speak about one topic.
Constructing an Ignite talk is a challenge, as you are forced to be very purposeful with what you decide to share. I spent my five minutes speaking about Risk Taking and why I think encouraging our students to be risk takers is so important.
I was much more inspired by the other nine Ignite speakers. I was left with a list of things I want to learn more about.
Tammy Knetchel validated my feelings about Interleaving and Spiralling. She made me wonder what Interleaving might look like in other subject areas.
Erin Kinsella spoke about the need for Wellness in our classrooms. The more I explore the ideas of Wellness, the more I see it is linked closely to Community Building.
Stephanie Briggs shared a story about her teaching philosophy and her desire to convince others that thinking is always greater than memorizing.
What I really loved about the Ignite talks was how everyone focussed on personal inspiration, the teacher’s journey, their philosophy, their “why”, and not necessarily a strategy. Passion was on display all day long!
I hate end of period bells. #Observe’em observation day and the Most Likely To Succeed film gave me a lot to think about how the school day can be structured. I don’t know if we can get rid of them entirely, but I’ve been working on playing with a timetable that offers some flexibility, as well as some opportunities to go deeper and longer in a class period. What are your thoughts on this one? Pros? Cons? Would love to hear your ideas and feedback!
Last Thursday evening, I travelled to Milton District High School for their showing of the documentary Most Likely To Succeed. If you haven’t seen it, check out the trailer before you read any further. I’ll wait here until you finish.
Done? Pretty cool, huh? . The screening I saw was put on in collaboration with the school and their school council and it was my first opportunity to view the film. I’m currently reading Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith’s book, on which the film is based, so it was a timely event for me.
High time for a rethink on the model.
The film makes the argument that our school system is built on an outdated structure designed in the 19th century, during the beginning of the industrial age. It places greatest value on knowledge acquisition and standardization of education. The Committee of 10 made decisions like the division of subjects, and at what age students would start to cover different subjects and content. This type of education is out of step with the age of ubiquitous, on demand information and doesn’t prepare students the economy in the 21st century. The film points to the rise of automation in jobs from factory line jobs, to journalistic writing, even lawyers, all these jobs are falling victim to this rise in automation. Instead, the film suggests that in order to succeed in the 21st century, what is needed are people that are creative, innovative problem solvers, that work well in teams on projects, and are able to think critically with the vast amount of information we have access to, something that our current school system is doing poorly.
The film then focuses on a high school in San Diego called “High Tech High”. This school is fascinating: it is a total rethink of how and WHY they educate their students; a public charter school not beholden to the curriculum expectations of the state. The students at the school covered less breadth of content in favour of “going deep”, REALLY deep, on some content. There are no bells that break up the school day, teachers are not hired by subject, instead teach whatever content they are inspired to cover. Most importantly students were put fully in the driver's seat of their own education. They were empowered to make real choices about what they learned, learning soft skills like working in a team, self confidence and the ability to take criticism in the process.
I left the viewing energized! It was empowering and I admit, I found it a bit disorienting to have so many innovative ideas thrown out there in 90 minutes. My brain was spinning with ideas of “How can I apply some of this to my own practice?” While some of the ideas seemed out of reach within our context at Halton, while High Tech High had full autonomy to cover what they wished in their classes, we are still beholden to the Ontario curriculum, so we don’t have the luxury of going deep on a very limited set of topics. In spite of that, within the constraints that we have to work with, how can I empower students more within the curriculum?
High Tech High’s school day was not punctuated by the ringing of bells marking the beginning and end of any particular class period. Instead, there was flexibility to structure the day based on the educational needs of the day. Coming from the art classroom, where it can sometimes take 2-3 hours to hit a good groove of art making and creating, that concept really resonated for me.
Teacher Autonomy and Teacher as Mentor
From the vantage point of a teacher, I also wondered about the teaching lives of the teachers involved. It must be incredibly empowering to have the agency they get to choose entirely what they want to teach and how it gets taught, and their shifted role away from the status quo teacher role to one of mentor and guide. On the flip side, the teachers at the school are hired on a one year (renewable) contract only, with no tenure. That left me wondering what metric their performance as teachers is measured on? There were some unanswered questions in the film that may be further explained as I continue to read the book.
Demonstration of Learning
One major shift highlighted in the film was how students were evaluated on their learning. Students were not asked to study for any tests. Instead, the film highlighted one night where “parents, friends’ parents, teachers, administration and community members” were invited to one major performance night. This night was high stakes and a real deadline that students needed to meet, and they created incredibly complex and sophisticated ways to do so. The film focused on two such final products: one large kinetic sculpture involving complex gear mechanisms as well as a student written play. While it remained unclear how exactly students were being evaluated that evening by whom and on what metric, the sophistication of the projects and the considerable personal growth of the students was a sight to behold. One aspect I did really like was how the students were interviewed after that evening, being asked to reflect on how it went and what they learned. This type of reflective interview is something I am definitely going to take away from the film and apply to my own classes this semester.
Have you seen this film? What did you take from it? If so, comment in the section below the most lasting ideas you were left with after watching.
Let’s put all the cards on the table before we get into our book list. When we say “reading”, what we really mean is “what pages do we look at after putting the kids to bed”. It’s hard to fit in reading, for professional growth or for fun into a day that is full of work and family. And yet, we try, as we imagine most of you do to.
Given the nature of this project, reading for professional growth has become more important to us. For sure we still try to find the time to read for pleasure but that time is shrinking as we get closer to launching The Shift. Certainly, if we are going to be the conduit through which innovative teaching practices are shared we better have some evidence to fall back on.
We both started by reading Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era. This book was the basis for the companion documentary Most Likely to Succeed, which was screened twice last semester in our board. The documentary itself was attended by over 500 Halton staff and prompted many great conversations in our schools. The film was even shown to students from Milton District High School. The book itself asks, among other things, how should classrooms be changing to reflect the skills needed to be successful in the 21st Century.
We have also moved on to the book Open, by David Price. Open wonders how we’ll work, live and learn in the future. How can our schools evolve in a world where many companies give away their products for free? Likewise, sharing in the 21st century seems to becoming the norm so how can our classrooms and professional relationships reflect that? Certainly we can continue to teach using our current model, which is formal (pre-determined time and place), linear (follows a curriculum) and transmitted one way (teacher to student). Open imagines an education system where learning is social and knowledge is gained as the task or project demands.
At least one of us is reading Burn Math Class (Hint: It’s not Matt). The author, Jason Wilkes,
describes a reordering of the math curriculum where students start with addition and subtraction and create their own mathematical facts based on experimentation and failure. At its core, the novel stresses removing the emphasis on memorization of procedures and instead have students construct methods that make sense to them.
Being a wide-eyed fan of his TED brilliant talks, we have picked up Sir Ken Robinson's Creative
Schools: The Grassroots Revolution that Transforming Education. As we are looking to SHIFT education at HDSB, the promise of direct call to action in this book has brought this one to the top of the "next read" list.
Traditional Grades School. Neither of us have opened the cover yet but we can’t wait to dive in. Both of us struggle with the question “What is this worth?” or “Is this getting marked?”. Hacking Assessment is about shifting everyone's thinking away from grades. School should be about the learning, not about the number attached to that learning. We can’t wait to start this one!
It is important to remember that no one book or idea is the magic bullet for our schools. Rather, the synthesis of ideas is important, especially when each individual educator thinks about their strengths and areas for growth. Reflection, as always, is important. We can picture a classroom where project based learning is the norm, each student is learning something different so that they can be successful on their own project and the curriculum is delivered in a way that makes sense to each individual student. More than that, each student engages in the classroom not because it is worth a mark but because they want to learn that material. We aren’t there yet, but we are working on it.
Want to learn with us? Consider joining Innovators Mindset, a book club with a twist! If you are an employee of the HDSB you can join in the discussion and get a free copy of the book. Over the course of five evenings the book will be discussed online. Participate from the comfort of your own home, or meet up with friends and collaborate as a group.
We look forward to participating in the conversation.