New Tech High School, Napa - Growing What Works

As part of the California visioning tour with Zach (see last week’s posting), we visited the New Tech mother ship in beautiful Napa, California.  I had visited Columbus Signature Academy, a New Tech School, in Columbus Indiana a couple of years ago and fell in love with the New Tech Network (NTN) curriculum and pedagogy - I was very much looking forward to visiting the school where the Network first started.

Our tour kicked off with an overview of New Tech, its students, pedagogical model and curriculum.  We were hosted by Paul Curtis, NTN Director of District Transformation - Paul kicked off the tour by modeling the New Tech pedagogy - inviting us to take charge of our learning by asking “What do you need to know (about New Tech)?” Our questions ranged from the philosophical underpinnings of the curriculum, the genesis and growth of the network, and the granular ‘on the ground’ implications of building a project based curriculum from scratch in a traditional high school environment.

I was particularly interested in New Tech’s district partnership model and how it approached its change leadership role.  Paul highlighted the following levers of change when adopting the New Tech model with fidelity:

  • School culture - the NTN values, i.e “Trust, Respect, Responsibility”modeled by students, teachers, administrators are critical
  • Providing a structure for team teaching and teacher collaboration
  • Block schedules - to allow for depth of inquiry
  • 1:1 computing - seamless use of technology as a non-negotiable for project based learning
  • Structure is more important that training
  • Training events and building in time for professional development

Paul sketched out an interesting analogy when comparing the role of structure and training when facilitating change.  He asked us to imagine we spent the summer training for the game of football, for ten weeks straight.  Then imagine in September you arrive at ‘work’ - where you find a basketball court. Which will you play, football or basketball? The vast majority of us will play basketball. despite our football training, because that’s the game you play on a basketball court.  Paul summarized this nicely, “Structure allows for change, training allows for success”.

We were then joined by Michelle Spencer, NTH Principal, who shared more details of the school’s approach to curriculum, pedagogy and culture.  Michelle underscored how critical the school culture is as the ‘container’ for project based learning.  If students are trusted to run with this approach to their learning, the discipline problems are minimal as students own their behavior.  There are no bells or hall passes at NTH - “anything you can do to not make it look or sound like school”.  This is a significant culture shift for incoming freshmen, indeed the first six weeks of the academic year are devoted to learning the NTH culture; building trusting relationships and embodying the values of trust, respect and responsibility are more important than content in these first few weeks.  The time spent on culture pays huge dividends in terms of students’ ownership of their learning experience and learning environment. Michelle highlighted how students play an integral role in designing their learning and the school is always thinking “How many decisions can the kids be involved in?” The more involved students are in these decisions, the more “you will have winning players in their own learning.”

This became readily apparent when our tour guide, Austin, showed us around the school.  As a NTH student, Austin answered our questions regarding his experience of the curriculum and why he chose Napa New Tech.  I was struck by how reflective his answers were and how much pride he showed in his school.  He was clear and focused regarding his post-school course of study at college and the kind of career he hoped to shape thereafter.  I learned how students at NTH are working on three to four projects at any one point in time.  Not only does this build project management and prioritization skills, students learn how to master decision making, collaboration and team leadership. After four years at NTH, students have conducted over 150 projects - an incredible body of work upon which to build ‘what’s next’.

We wrapped up the tour with a lunch with several teachers.  It was great to learn more about their experience designing and facilitating the NTH curricular model.  The teachers underscored the importance of upfront work with collaborative project design compared with the traditional environment, and the pivotal role school culture plays in a healthy learning environment. Earlier Paul had mentioned how the de-professionalization of the teaching profession is a major problem in transforming our education system, it was great to see how at NTH, the passions of the teachers are fostered and supported.  Friday is teacher collaboration day where teachers collaborate in professional learning communities with data to discuss student learning - and teachers observe other teachers in their classroom, with substitute teachers being paid to allow for this peer professional development.

In closing comments, I asked Paul what the growth plans are for the New Tech Network.  He replied that they have 132 schools in the network and are adding 30 additional schools this summer.  The question which keeps Paul up at night is “How do we build 500 more New Tech schools and ensure fidelity to our values and pedagogy?” Paul’s question has stuck in my mind ever since.  I don’t have any silver bullet answers, but I do know it won’t be via our industrial age model of scale.  


Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART): "Put your Passion into Action"

Continuing the blog series from the road, I accompanied Zach Eikenberry of NEXT High School on an inspiration trip to California as he and his team prepare to launch NEXT High School in Greenville, SC.  I had not heard of the Center for Advanced Research and Technology [CART] until Zach brought it to my attention - having visited the school, I am hopeful many more people will get to know this school and its innovative model, let’s get the word out!

We were greeted by Brenda Henkelmann upon entering the building.  Brenda is the embodiment of that warm welcoming presence - treating all who enter with a smile and a clear joy for the work taking place at CART. The building has a large, high ceilinged atrium in the entry way, bright colors throughout, carpeted hallways and posters of inspirational leaders lining the walls.  I felt at home, welcomed and that the expectations are high for those who enter. Classrooms are configured according to lab content area (more on the labs below), with windows onto the hallway - all supporting an open, collaborative atmosphere.

Here is a snapshot from the 'About Us' section on the CART website:

"The Center for Advanced Research and Technology (CART) is the most comprehensive, state-of-the-art education reform effort at the secondary level to date. The CART combines rigorous academics with technical, design, process, entrepreneurial, and critical thinking skills.

The 75,000 square foot CART facility, designed as a high performance business atmosphere, is organized around four career clusters. They are Professional Sciences,EngineeringAdvanced Communications, and Global Economics. Within each cluster are several career-specific laboratories in which students complete industry-based projects and receive academic credit for advanced English, science, math, and technology."

Zach had visited before as he and CART are working on a partnership to bring the curricular and pedagogical model to NEXT High School when it opens in the fall of 2015.  We met with Rick Watson, CEO and Beth Garoupa, Dean of Curriculum and Instruction to get me up to speed on the CART vision and context ahead of the student-led tour.  Noelle was our student guide and a great ambassador for the school.  CART is a unique educational model - partnering with 15 feeder schools from Fresno and Clovis school districts. Fresno and Clovis students attend CART at the same time.  Students from both districts attend the 7:30-10:30am session and the 12:30-3:30pm session. Students attend their regular high school when they are not at CART and take classes such as foreign languages and physical education. The CART curriculum is organized around the four career clusters noted above and shaped via sixteen interdisciplinary labs.  These labs are team taught by three teachers and class sizes can hold up to 90 or so students.  Labs are as follows:

  • Biomedicine
  • Biotechnology
  • Business and Finance
  • Engineering and Product Development
  • Environmental Science and Field Research
  • Forensic Research and Biotechnology
  • Hospitality and Event Management
  • Interactive Game Design
  • Law and Order and Policy
  • Marketing and Advertising
  • Multimedia - Digital Media andGraphic Design
  • Multimedia - Digital Video Production and Broadcast
  • Network Management and Computer Maintenance
  • Psychology and Human Behavior
  • Robotics and Electronics
  • Web Application Development

[Click on the photo above to see additional lab photos]

The curriculum and pedagogy are based on five design principles - Cognition, Academics, Real-World, Technology, and Personalization - these principles guide every aspect of the learning process; they are reflected in expected student outcomes, curriculum, assessment practices, teaching modalities and school environment. 

 Zach wrapping his head around Macbeth and Robotics in the same classroom - the 'MacBot' :)

Zach wrapping his head around Macbeth and Robotics in the same classroom - the 'MacBot' :)

The teachers with whom we spoke underscored the importance of teacher collaboration and shared prep time.  Typically teachers spend 5-6 hours per week in formal and informal collaborative prep time.  

I am very much looking forward to visiting Greenville SC for the first time later this month for the NEXT High School's Industry Partner Summit.  Greenville business and community leaders will gather to experience the CART project based learning methodology first hand and, in so doing, will identify up to 50 business and community project for NEXT High School students.  Although the school will not open until 2015, our goal is for admitted students to begin work on these projects before the school launch.  This will enable NEXT to embody its mission of learn by doing and to co-create the the school pedagogy and curriculum with students and the Greenville community.  I will report back on the NEXT/CART summit at the end of this month.  In the meantime, I will leave the final words of this blog posting to Noelle, our inspirational tour guide, thanks again Noelle for a great tour of CART!

“I love it here, it’s like home.  I can be my nerdy, crazy self.”

Waldorf Lexington: A beautifully calibrated curriculum, pedagogy and learning environment

Kicking off my tour of schools focusing on ‘whole child’ education, I visited the Open House at the Waldorf School in Lexington this past week. I was familiar with the basic tenets of Waldorf education and had read some background on the model, but this was my first experience of seeing the work first hand.  I was eager to learn more about Rudolf Steiner’s developmentally based pedagogical model.

For context purposes, here are a few quick facts about the school:

  • Located in Lexington, Massachusetts and established in 1971
  • Over 250 students, boys and girls from Pre-K through Grade 8, over 26 nationalities or languages spoken by students and their families
  • Over 50 faculty and staff, 9 nationalities or languages spoken by teachers
  • Mission: “Our mission is to provide children in pre-school through eighth grade with an education that supports physical, emotional, social, and intellectual growth and development. Our work is based on the educational work of Rudolph Steiner and his insights into human development and social forms. Our goal is to awaken and foster in our students: A sense of wonder; creative and inquiring minds; a well-founded belief in their capacities; strength of character, will and intellect; and compassion for and interest in all life.”

Using curriculum, pedagogy and space as a lens for observation, here are the elements of the Waldorf model which really resonated with me:

Driving onto the school grounds, I was struck by the green space and natural environment in which the school resides.  The School abuts Arlington’s Great Meadows preserve and I could feel myself relax after a long commute as I pulled into the parking lot and see the vast expanse of green parkland and the first signs of Spring (it has been a long Massachusetts winter!).  As i entered the building, I could see that natural materials abounded in the classrooms (wooden tables and chairs, plants in every room, natural fabrics, etc.) and the walls painted in varying shades of warm pastels cast a lovely shade of light.  It felt homely, comfortable, welcoming, not institutional.

I visited a kindergarten class, 4th grade and 8th grade.  My biggest takeaway was the interdisciplinary design of the curriculum, the developmentally aligned pedagogy and the role of the Arts as a throughline and building block for learning.  Click on the image below to see an  ‘at a glance’ snapshot of the curriculum:

The Arts and Crafts teacher helped me understand the curricular decisions at each developmental stage, for example, when students learn to knit in 1st grade, they are honing fine motor skills and visual acuity.  Every concept in every grade is aided and supported by handwork, e.g. making dolls and learning proportion, chiseling a perfect egg from a block of wood and learning hand eye coordination and persistence, quilting and learning to build community as well as discover the biography of great quilters.

I had heard that some Waldorf schools do not embrace technology - it was instructive to learn how this Waldorf school weaves technology into the curriculum in a way that honors the pedagogical model of curiosity and deep learning - for example, during one of the two hour blocks, the topic is computers - here students learn the history of the computer, what the internet is, how to take a computer apart.  They are part of the research and inquiry - not just passively pressing a button.

At the heart of the Waldorf model is the ‘Main Lesson’ taught be the ‘Class Teacher’ - a two hour block at the beginning of the day of concentrated inquiry on one of four central subjects (language arts, history, mathematics and science) for a block of 3 to 4 weeks.  Waldorf students have the same teacher (the ‘Class Teacher’) for their ‘Main Lesson’ for eight years, with additional subject-specific teachers.  The Waldorf pedagogical model is based on the developmental arc of the child and adolescent.  Robert Schiappacasse, School Director, gave an informative snapshot of the provenance of the model; I paraphrase his comments below:

“Waldorf is a global education movement developed by Rudolf Steiner in Germany as a school for factory worker children - a social education. He believed that in order to live together, we need to understand each other - we need to be creative; human beings are more than just their heads.  Children need to go through developmental stages - and honor the head, hands and heart throughout.  We need a balanced human being for a balance society. In 1950 there were 50 Waldorf schools globally, now there are over 1000 Waldorf schools on six continents.  All schools are independently started by teachers and parents and there are Waldorf teaching centers globally.  The developmental phases are physiologically, neurally, and sensorially based and we focus on where the child is.  What does the child need to be doing and a what stage do they need to be doing it? No pushing academic content when the child is still “building their house”. A more participative as opposed to passive approach to education - and to life. The Arts are integrated throughout. Students need creative ways to express themselves - there are no electives, children do everything.  The creative side is often absent in education, not so at Waldorf."

When asked about assessment, Robert replied that Waldorf students do not participate in standardized testing. Teachers write narrative reports and there are two parent teacher conferences per year.  Opportunities for parents to participate in the school abound. Students participate in evaluations and quizzes throughout the year.  8th grade independent papers can be on any topic of the student’s choosing - while visiting an 8th grade classroom, I saw reports ranging from ‘Elements of Photo Shop’ to ‘Trebuchet’.  Here is a wonderful snapshot of a ‘Main Lesson Book’ .

My biggest takeaway from this visit was the careful calibration of every decision at the school being focused on the overall development of the child - socially, emotionally, physically, as well as academically.  The entire learning environment, including space, is the result of the meticulous honing of an educational model centered on the ‘whole child’. In three short hours I experienced just a snapshot of its depth.  Next up on my tour, I would like to visit a Waldorf High School to learn more about how the developmental arc is sustained and further supported through adolescence. In the meantime, I will re-read Jack Petrash's 'Understanding Waldorf Education: Teaching from the Inside Out' to further ground myself in the model.

Thank you to Tiuja Voutilainen and Jeanette Voss who led the tour and to Robert for his inspiring remarks and for spending time with me at the end of the tour to share resources and reactions to the IFL learning lab.  During this conversation, Robert shared some interesting data on the Torrance Test - the topic of a future blog posting.

This week, I am in California visiting CART and the New Tech mothership in Napa.  Zach Eikenberry is the organizer and leader of the trip in preparation for the launch of Next High School in Greenville, SC - will report back next week :)

School visit schedule is coming together

Following up on last week's post, I would like to thank Steven Brzozowski for reaching out and inviting me to visit River Valley Charter School in Newburyport - thanks Steven! - I look forward to visiting and learning more about River Valley's curriculum and pedagogy. Thanks also to Grant Lichtman for spending time with me via Skype sharing his experience of visiting 60 schools across the country - and his lessons learned regarding process.  If you haven't watched Grant's TEDx talk What 60 Schools Can Tell Us About Teaching 21st Century Skills, I encourage you to do so.  Also, be sure to check out Grant's blog the Learning Pond - I am always inspired by the passion and thoughtfulness which come through in his writing.

While the schedule takes shape, I have been working on a draft set of questions to help provide a framework/lens for my learning.  Here are the questions - let me know if you have any feedback or suggested amendments in the comments section below.

More later :) 

Hitting the road

Happy Spring!  Although the temperatures would say otherwise, Spring has sprung in New England and I’m looking forward to the season’s transition to warmer temperatures :)

The past six months has been a great period of discovery, visiting such notable schools as High Tech High, Nueva, Workshop School, Blue School and Da Vinci Schools to name a few.  After this initial broad sweep of visiting schools I am now beginning to focus on learning models with which I am familiar, such as Montessori and Waldorf, but which I have not experienced first hand.  I am taking the opportunity to spend a full day in six or seven schools over the next six weeks and will inventory what I learn under six broad headings:

  • Knowledge/Competencies/Habits of Mind - What are the skills, knowledge and habits of mind which students are learning in this school?
  • Pedagogy - How are these skills, knowledge and habits of mind being learned? What is the teacher’s/parent’s community’s role in designing and facilitating the learning? 
  • Assessment - How are these competencies, habits of mind and acquiring of knowledge being assessed? Formatively and summatively?
  • Space - How is the physical learning environment structured to support the learning?
  • Talent - How does the school find, develop and retain its teachers?
  • Scale - What are the plans to scale (if any)?

The goal of this research is to inventory existing leading practice to help answer the question, “How might we build a learning environment where students, who do not thrive in the standardized learning environment, will thrive and grow?”  I will report back findings on this blog and synthesize overall themes.  The themes will inform the initial design of the IFL ‘Whole Child’ Lab. Stay tuned!

How Montessori Promotes Disruptive Innovation

One of my favorite sessions at the recent SXSWEdu conference was a panel session entitled, “How Montessori Promotes Disruptive Innovation”.  

“As traditional education fails students, educators are questioning the purpose/delivery method of education. Professionals have developed learning styles to address this problem resulting in “flipped” classrooms, peer instruction and hands-on learning. However, outcomes these methods aim to produce—critical thinking, problem solving, entrepreneurship and creativity—are already available with Montessori.”

Panel participants are highlighted below:

 James Moudry, Post Oak School

James Moudry, Post Oak School

 Kathy Minardi, Aidan Montessori School

Kathy Minardi, Aidan Montessori School

 Laura Shaw, Oak Knoll Kinderhaus

Laura Shaw, Oak Knoll Kinderhaus

 Maura Joyce, Montessori Redlands

Maura Joyce, Montessori Redlands

- and here is an excerpt of my twitter stream from the discussion:

  • Montessori #SXSWedu kicking off with "what is school for?" Typically content delivery, not developing children
  • Children developing their own authentic voice through Montessori - not 'time on task', but 'authenticity on task'
  • Montessori #sxswedu human beings crave reality - classroom not enough for older children
  • What is Montessori? The complete developmental package:  #DisruptEdu #SXSWedu "What will you bring to the world?"
  • #SXSWedu Montessori interdisciplinary curriculum, could this be the disruption of industrial framework of schooling?
  • Montessori mafia :) #DisruptEdu #SXSWedu the Disruptive innovators are already out there
  • Our world is demanding entrepreneurs and our factory model of education has not been producing them for over 100 yrs Montessori #SXSWedu
  • Montessori developed a comprehensive developmental model producing socially minded entrepreneurs - 100 years ago #SXSWedu #DisruptEdu
  • We are facing adaptive challenges, not technical problems as a citizenry - Montessori builds the adaptive muscle #SXSWedu #DisruptEdu
  • Provide as much scaffolding as is needed in the moment and no more -then take it down as quickly as possible Montessori #SXSWedu

The panel discussion kicked off by asking “What is school for”? The answer in response was "teaching kids to learn how to learn through a highly integrated, interdisciplinary curriculum" and that at a Montessori school "You learn to do hard things".

Prior to the session, I had only read about Maria Montessori’s work. It was wonderful to see four passionate Heads of School bring the Montessori method to life and relating it to the broader context of how Montessori can take us into the future.  The panelists noted how we have become very individualistic as a society - yes, our individual rights are important - as are the rights of others.  Children in Montessori classrooms experience this from the get go as there aren’t two (or more) of everything in the classroom. Children understand if they break something it will impact everyone else.

I was reminded of Ron Heifitz’ work on Leadership Without Easy Answers.  It’s the framework I return to again and again as I wrestle with how large systems change and the capacity within that system for the individual to have impact. Imagine if we began graduating a generation of young people who had facility with complex adaptive changes, understood their impact (for good or for ill) on the collective, and were equipped to “do hard things”.

SXSWedu - Designing a Next Gen High School from Scratch

I had a blast at the #SXSWedu conference last week in Austin.  A major highlight was meeting friends and colleagues - many of whom I hadn't seen in some time, or who I had met virtually Twitter or Skype in the past year or so - sending a big shout out to the leading work (and great company) of @BoAdams1 @ChristineOrtiz and @LucienVattel :)

I will write a couple of blog posts on the SWSWedu experience and am kicking off with a summary of Alpha public schools session on 'Designing a Next Gen High School from Scratch'. This blog posting is dedicated to the bold and visionary Zach Eikenberry, coordinator for NEXT High School in Greenville, South Carolina.  

Onto the session - it was co-facilitated by Will Eden, Entrepreneur in Residence and Alison Elliott, Board Member.  The session was a two hour hands-on experience of design thinking in action.  Participants divided into teams to work on a specific challenge/opportunity related to building a new High School, framed under the heading of "How Might We...?".  My team and I worked on the question of "How might we engage students who are not interested in High School?" The process we followed is summarized in the below model:

SXSW.DT Model.014-001.jpg


- with specifics of the design thinking process outlined in the slide deck here

Throughout the session and during the debrief, Alison and Will wove their lessons learned and takeaways from facilitating a similar process in their own community in San Jose.  Alpha public schools is planning on opening the doors of its first High School in 2015.

My key takeaways from participating in the process and with my team are as follows:

  • When forming team, ensure diversity of background and expertise - our team was a mixture of educators, technology experts and non-profit and for-profit organizations. It would have been great to have a few students in our group, but they were in short supply.  Note to SXSWedu organizers - it would be great to see many more students participating at next year's conference :)
  • Users are central to the design thinking experience - when designing a new school or program, it's critical to get the students involved as early as possible and throughout the process.  Don't design solutions until you fully understand needs from the users' and stakeholders' perspective.
  • On a related note, it's important to reach **all** your users - it's easy to talk with the the people who show up.  Go out and speak with the users who don't show up to your event and seek their input.
  • Seek stories in user interviews, they bring the data to life and yield a depth of understanding not often discussed in a typical strategic planning event.
  • Balance primary and secondary research.  Too often, my tendency is to go to "what does the research say?" first.  When designing a high school from scratch, reach out to your users, engage a broad cross section of the new school's community and involve a diverse group in this process of discovery, synthesis and ideation and **then** go to the secondary research. This will help to isolate the senses, dig deep in the user interviews and design a school to meet the specifics of your own community's unique needs.  Of course, secondary research has much to add as we seek not to reinvent the wheel, but balance and timing of the use of secondary research are key.
  • Finally, it's an incredibly engaging (and fun!) way to quickly engage diverse users and stakeholders and go deep on the curricular, pedagogical, space and structure for a new school design.

Towards the end of the session, Will and Alison very kindly mentioned they would send out a more detailed guide on their process to the group.  I will upload it here with their permission, once received.  In the meantime, you can download a 'Design Thinking for Educators' toolkit here - and be sure to check out the great work which Susie Wise is leading at the K12 Lab at Stanford.

The Next Step in Disrupting Class - Heather Staker

I had the good fortune to attend the LearnLaunch conference this past weekend in Cambridge - the theme of the conference was "Expanding the Education Innovation System".  The sessions were thought provoking and pushed me on the IFL vision as we seek to help transform the factory model of education.

A significant highlight for me was Heather Staker's presentation, "The Next Step in Disrupting Class". Heather is a Senior Research Fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation and while I had read Clayton's book 'Disrupting Class' a while back, Heather's presentation really helped to bring the concepts to life for me as well as providing insight into a number of K-16 specific developments since the writing of the book - quoting Heather, "disruption has reached the education market".


One of my biggest IFL-related takeaways from the presentation is to 'serve a pocket of non-consumption'; K-12 examples include credit recovery, drop outs, AP/advanced courses and home-schooling, while Higher Ed examples include on-the-job training, micro-certification, incarcerated adults and stay-at-home moms and dads.

The key questions and areas of focus for the IFL which I take away from Heather's talk are:

  • Define the problem the IFL is trying to solve - make this as granular and specific as possible.
  • Get the market right, as opposed to the technology, i.e. who can we best serve? Who is not being served well, not thriving within the current system? Serve pockets of consumption whose alternative is nothing at all.
  • Document and publish our findings as we go. Avoid blanket statements such as "this will serve all kids", but rather, our research tells us this strategy works well for 'X' student demographic, it does not serve 'Y' student demographic - capture and document evidence
  • Think of opportunities not threats - how are we taking some pain away?  What pain do we want to take away? What's the IFL core competency?

Thanks Heather for an illuminating talk!

P.S. A number of great white papers on K-16 disruptive innovation are available for free download on the Clayton Christensen website. 

P.P.S. On a more personal level, if you haven't read Clayton's book, 'How Will You Measure Your Life', I encourage you to do so. If I had a magic wand, I would make the answering of that question a graduation requirement :)

What's worth learning?

"What's worth learning" was the question which kicked off one of my most thought provoking classes with David Perkins.  The class was entitled 'Educating for the Unknown' and unbeknownst to be me at the time, the class proved to be the genesis of the Institute for the Future of Learning.

So, what do I think is worth learning? Here's my current thinking in graphic format below.  I'm about to embark on a six week tour of the educational 'whole child' models which I view most promising, proven and aligned with my own thinking regarding healthy learning environments for both students and educators.

I will put my theories to the test and report back weekly on this blog - stay tuned!