Inspiration: New School Model Design and Lighthouse Charter Visit

I visited the Bay Area recently to tag along with the fabulous Christine Ortiz as she co-taught the ‘New School Model Design’ course at Stanford.  It was inspiring to learn how these undergraduate and graduate students are reimagining school and thinking deeply about the needs of a diverse array of learners - I was like a kid in a candy store :)  Spending time with these students as they unpacked their models and designed prototypes helped me grapple further with the question of redesigning the role of teacher.  It is anathema to me that the teaching profession is being de-professionalized, when research and evidence (and common sense) tell us just how complex the demands of this role are.  Designing and facilitating learning requires a deep knowledge of cognition and the art of instruction, the latest developments in neuroscience, engaging hearts, minds and hands, stages of adolescent development, formative and summative assessment, to name just a few of the domains of knowledge and skills required to facilitate an individualized, whole child, deep and engaging learning experience. I will return to this topic in later blog postings and am looking forward to digging into a number of key questions with educators at the upcoming fuse14 design session in Atlanta week after next.

With the backdrop of new school design, I was excited to visit Lighthouse Charter Academy in Oakland during my Bay Area visit.  Aaron Vanderwerff , Creativity Lab and Science Coordinator, very kindly gave Christine and I a tour and shared the mission and underlying design principles of the school.

The mission of Lighthouse Community Charter School is to prepare a diverse, K-12th grade student population for college and the career of their choice by equipping each child and youth with the skills, knowledge, and tools to become a self-motivated, competent, lifelong learner.

In order to achieve its mission, Lighthouse Community Charter School committed to five priorities in its school design:

  • High Expectations for All Students
  • A Rigorous Curriculum
  • Serving the Whole Child
  • Family Involvement
  • Professional Learning Community

The Lighthouse Charter School is located in a converted union hall.  Itl has an airy, welcoming and warm atrium, carpeting and lots of light.  The classrooms allow for individual work, group work and a LOT of hands-on work.  The pedagogical philosophy of the school is one that is grounded in community, high expectations and hands-on learning.  The schedule comprises 90 minute blocks, learning targets are based on California standards and restorative justice is the means by which everyone learns empathy and conflict management skills.  The school partners actively with its community and enjoys partnerships with local businesses such as Clorox, PG&E and Pixar to name a few.  An example of community and inter-class work can be seen with the conversion of a gasoline truck to an electric truck - two seniors started it last year and two seniors finished it this year.

Aaron explained how the classes are carefully scaffolded (important when using a circular saw!) and how the design of each course is calibrated to ensure diversity of participation, e.g. same sex pairing when making a chair and embroidering a pillow for a chair - to ensure that sewing doesn’t default to the majority of girls and woodworking to the majority of boys.  The result of this scaffolding and woven throughout is an ethos of “You can learn to do this yourself”.  I encourage you to check out Aaron’s blog to dig deeper into his pedagogy and curriculum.  

The school has a structure of faculty Inquiry groups where teachers help each other with assessment and lesson planning - they have an effective teaching partnership with Berkley and Aaron helped point me in the direction of great resources - such as this rubric packet on creative thinking, critical thinking, information literacy, inquiry and analysis, oral communication, problem solving reading, teamwork and written communication.

I will finish this series of school visit blog postings in a week or two - featuring Montessori and Waldorf schools.  More to come :)