The web is full of inspirational, mind-blowing ideas. This post is a follow-up to my last entry that examined the studio approach, used for years in post-secondary multimedia, design, and architecture schools to make learning truly authentic, deeply collaborative, and highly rigorous.

Today I watched the following video presented by The Pearson Foundation and the Mobile Learning Institute, highlighting the philosophy and structure of High Tech High (HTH) through the eyes of its CEO, Larry Rosenstock. Check out Project Based Learning at HTH:

This video is full of brilliant ideas! Here are some highlights and a few of my thoughts:

Full integration. Rosenstock speaks not only about the integration of students from varying socioeconomic backgrounds, cultures, and abilities, but the elimination of segregated classes that separate students who are said to “work with their hands” from those who “work with their heads”, schools from their communities, and academics from non-academics (in terms of subjects as well as students).

“There is no course here…[HTH has been said to be] a great liberal arts school in disguise.” Rosenstock’s background in carpentry taught him that everything (meaning every subject) can be learned through the process of design and conceptual work in all aspects of art, media, design, and technology. He argues that our understanding of the arts in the broadest sense should be combined to create fluid learning environments where students can build connections between all subject areas and will no longer think about subjects as entities separate from each other. At HTH it seems that students go to school to learn and grow, period.

Constant reflection and collaborative critique. The student voices in the video show a deep understanding of the process of learning and reflection for improvement. This important skill is echoed in Lloyd Rieber’s article, The Studio Experience: Educational Reform in Instructional Technology, which also describes an emphasis on constant reflection and peer/instructor critiques in the multimedia design program at the University of Georgia. I believe that all schools need to emphasize all types of reflection more.

A physical environment that “…doesn’t look like a school, [but like] a start-up, an incubator”. I am sure that the appearance of the school was the first thing that struck you when you watched the video. Student work oozes from every pore: floor-to-ceiling murals, objects hanging from the ceiling, an entire wall of screens displaying multimedia work, screens embedded inside life-size paintings of figures, and of course, the piece featuring interactive bicycle wheels. This fuels student reflection, motivation, and pride in their work. Furthermore, the walls are all made of glass. They physically enable fluid learning, sharing, self-regulation, curiosity, and non-stop collaborative engagement throughout the school—for students and teachers alike.

“If you treat kids with respect and enter them into the adult world, they will behave like adults…suspicion invites treachery.” The hundreds of student-created pieces in the hallways are free of vandalism because of the respect that students and staff feel for their work and their learning community. Rosenstock speaks of students rising to the high expectations of adults and peers while engaging in shared learning, focused on their passions. With meaningful projects and constant collaboration with peers, the level of student-student and student-teacher respect is elevated to the highest degree.

The most memorable and meaningful learning experiences involve: projects, mentors, community involvement, risk of failure, recognition for success, and public exhibition. “Rigor is being in the company of a passionate adult who is rigorously pursuing inquiry in their subject matter and is inviting students along as a peer in adult discourse”. Later on, Rosenstock also refers to social change as a catalyst for meaningful learning that leverages existing resources to improve peoples’ lives.

We can measure your effectiveness as a teacher through “the sophistication of your kids’ work. If your kids are producing work that is worth doing and has lasting value, and learning that’s worth learning, you’re a good teacher”. This is an incredibly powerful statement that not only tells us what good teaching is, but what good learning should lead to.

Real-world engagement. “I want kids behaving like an actress, behaving like a scientist, behaving like a documentary film maker, behaving like a journalist, not just studying it, but being like it, because what is adolescence, but trying on new roles and sampling new identities?” Rosenstock emphasizes that it’s not about training students for specific occupations, but immersing them in rich, real experiences.

(Image: i made you…,  by tinney. 2006. Available under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.)

And by the way, the High Tech High website features some amazing resources, including excellent examples of digital portfolios by students and staff, student-produced videos, and much more.

What are your thoughts on HTH and its approach to project based learning (and so much more)?

(Image: The Studio, by tinney. 2010. Available under a Creative Commons Attribution License.)

Glass Walls, Carpentry, and Design: Authentic Learning at High Tech High

3 thoughts on “Glass Walls, Carpentry, and Design: Authentic Learning at High Tech High

  • May 7, 2011 at 11:51 am

    An AP shared your site with her staff yesterday and as I was having a look I found the Project Based Learning at HTH that you posted. It really resonated with me and I’m going to pass along your site and this video to others. Thanks!
    Although you highlighted some of the key factors involved in this school, I wonder how many factors need to be present to make this successful and if individual teachers can work on this within their rooms if the bigger school culture is still working on the other factors?

    • May 8, 2011 at 2:21 pm

      Hi Sharon,

      Please share with others and keep the conversation going! I believe that HTH is a highly effective example of integrative learning across all disciplines. HTH embodies so many interconnected factors that lead to student success — we should continue our discussion to find out what those salient elements are. I’ll put forth that some of the most salient factors are: integrated curriculum, systems of support to move thinking and practice forward (for students, teachers, parents, industry, and community members), a system-wide expectation of collaboration and integrated work, and a way to assess learning and collaborative effectiveness (school-wide and system-wide). Your thoughts?

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