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 :)

Tradition Meets Innovation @BCD

A couple of weeks ago I visited Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, MA.  I learned of Beaver’s innovative coded curriculum at the SXSW Edu conference and wanted to experience Beaver’s broader pedagogical model first hand, having learned that the coded curriculum is just a slice of Beaver’s innovation.  Here’s a quick snapshot of BCD:

“We look beyond tradition and beyond our walls to learn from and partner with the best.  We present classic and innovative subject matter in a creative environment that yields real results.

  • Co-educational, Grades 6-12
  • Independent and college preparatory; founded in 1920
  • 125 students in the middle school
  • 332 students in the upper school
  • 24% students of color, 20% faculty/staff of color
  • 50% of students come from public and charter schools, 50% from independent and parochial schools
  • 24% of students receive financial aid
  • Students come from over 60 communities in and around Boston and speak 20 different languages at home

Beaver’s Principal, Peter Hutton, describes mastery of content and conventional problem solving as the ‘basics’.  The overarching mission of Beaver is to raise the bar so that, “Our students are prepared for an undefined era where advanced thinking skills, essential skills, such as iteration, synthesis, adaptation, collaboration, and innovation are the cornerstones of professional success and personal development.”

I was struck by how Beaver’s physical environment is a beautiful mix of traditional and new.  Red brick buildings, the inside walls of which are painted industrial grey with shots of bright color such as pink or blue.  Sleek design with strong traditional bones.  The physical environment underscores what’s important at Beaver - choice, individual work, group work, private time, heavy emphasis on the Arts, technology and real-world application.  When I met with Rob McDonald, Math Department Chair, he described the Beaver culture and the values which underpin it.  He looks for teachers who are "collaborative risk takers", who want to learn something new - with their peers in the school and from the students.  The curriculum and pedagogy stretch beyond the walls of the school; Rob explained how 12 or 13 years ago, they let go of Advanced Placement. (AP).  He explained how oftentimes depth was being sacrificed for breadth and important ideas were being glossed over.  Indeed he went on to share how colleges are becoming more skeptical of the AP, citing how students are not grasping big ideas through AP and lack deep understanding of content.  Instead of AP, Beaver students have the opportunity to take college level courses:

“For students seeking the highest level of challenge, Beaver offers intensive honors or advanced classes in all disciplines. We offer Honors Advanced courses in science and math as well as honors sections of all required math and science courses. The Honors Advanced courses explore a topic (such as organic chemistry or calculus) in greater depth than a typical AP course. Our courses ask students to construct innovative solutions to complex real-world problems. We also offer upper level elective courses in all disciplines that are college-level in their approach and expectations.”

- in addition, NuVu studio, Beaver’s Innovative trimester-length program with pedagogy based on the studio model of teaching and learning, is receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback from colleges.  The studio provides students with the opportunity to create, iterate and collaborate in an interdisciplinary environment, working on real world opportunities with mentors who work in the field.

BCD is a learning environment which strives to tap into what students are passionate about and supports risk taking - for students and teachers alike. Peter talks about “making great mistakes”, and helping teachers to feel empowered in their work.

I was excited to visit Rebecca Roberts' Art class.  Her class inhabits the top floor of one of the buildings - not only is there much room for artistic expression and experimentation, there is also a dedicated reflection and group space, ‘the living room’.  Becky lives the ethos of an individualized, real-world, interdisciplinary approach to her work - be sure to check out her blog where she highlights her influences, curriculum and teaching philosophy.

I leave the conclusion of this posting to the inspirational words of Becky from her blog:

“I aim to create a learning environment that fosters the development of habits of mind artists use everyday in their studios. The curriculum, the design of the physical space, and the use of time encourages creativity, exploration, and innovation, while at the same time fostering the basic skills and knowledge that serve as building blocks for art making. Theory and practice overlap. Projects and assignments start with big questions about ideas and materials. Students are encouraged to experiment, to struggle, and to work toward personal solutions while learning to understand their own approach to the creative process."

Landmark School - Learning to Learn

Two weeks ago I visited Landmark School, located on the beautiful North Shore in Massachusetts.  I had heard of Landmark’s success through several friends and alumni and was very much looking froward to experiencing the school first hand.  Landmark was originally conceived as a summer ‘lab’ in 1971.  The founder, Charles Drake, wanted to start a school with the goal of helping children become independent learners.  The school helps children who have been diagnosed as dyslexic or learning disabled.  Charles Drake wanted to build a learning environment where students would ‘learn how to learn’ - he saw that students' “reading, writing, spelling, and mathematical skills did not match their thinking and problem solving capacities”. Click here to learn more about common misperceptions about learning disabilities 

I started my day meeting with Henry Willette, Academic Dean.  Henry helped me understand how content is a vehicle to skills acquisition at Landmark - and that the primary objective of the work is for each student to become an independent learner.  He got me thinking how this should be the ultimate objective for every student in every school, yet somehow the bureaucracy of our education system endeavors to remove independence from the learner - and from teachers.  I was reminded how our system of compliance and consumption works actively against the autonomy of teachers and learners alike.  Henry shared how teachers at Landmark apply critical thinking across the board in their classes and when teachers get together, ”we talk about how to approach learning - not content area”.  He underscored how there is a community of sharing amongst teachers at Landmark - one that is incredibly supportive and focused on students’ needs. Landmark’s Six Teaching Principles inform ground pedagogy across the curriculum. 

During the morning I visited several classes - Study Skills with Tucker Harrison, Biology with Jennifer Day, Yoga with Erin Brewer, a tutorial with Bill McCarthy and British Literature with Margot Marcou. The classes comprised anywhere from 1 (individual tutorial) to 8 students.  I was able to see first hand how teachers weave study skills and ‘learning how to learn’ throughout their lesson plans, e.g. using concept maps to draw or describe what is happening, using color, describing drawings in words, 3D animations, presenting the Lolita syllabus which is structured like a college syllabus and drawing students’ attention to this as preparation for what they will navigate at college and exploring the word “deviant” in Study Skills class to dig into its meaning and typical meaning misunderstandings, practice group discussion and ‘think what you are thinking’ - a highly participative discussion on “what is normal” ensued.

Erin "Spiritual Gangster" Brewer, Yoga and Geometry Teacher :)

Erin "Spiritual Gangster" Brewer, Yoga and Geometry Teacher :)

Having visited several classrooms, I walked over to the new Athletic Center.  The Landmark campus is beautiful and rustic.  It does not have an institutional feel, yet it is a great mix of traditional college prep style buildings and more modern buildings such as the Athletic Center.  I walked into Erin’s yoga class and was immediately struck by how helpful I would have found a daily yoga class at school - particularly during my teenage years!  In addition to the obvious physical and mental benefits of yoga, Erin did a wonderful job of weaving life lessons as she talked the class through the various yoga poses and as students wobbled and struggled through some of the more challenging poses,”It’s OK to wobble - we all wobble in life.  What is important is that you regain your footing.” “Stuff comes up in backbends, stay with it,”  “Let gravity do its work.” 

Meeting with Scott Jamieson, Asst. Dean of Students, helped me understand the different levels of residential life at Landmark.  Privileges are granted via levels - Level 1 being the lowest, with Level 6 being the highest.  The purpose of the ‘levels’ is to help students build organization skills and self advocacy.  At Level 6, students have demonstrated excellent organization and time management skills and can advocate for themselves effectively.

Before lunch I met with Bill Barrett, Faculty Recruiter, who described the hiring process at Landmark.  He highlighted when he hires new teachers, he is looking for communication skills, a good fit with residential life, a genuine desire to work with the Landmark students and an understanding that content is a vehicle to learn skills, thinking and how to learn.  Bill described Landmark’s approach of hiring new teachers, typically 1 or 2 years out of college and how the school brings Simmons College on Campus - a partnership whereby Simons Faculty teach at Landmark on nights and weekends; within 4-5 years, new teachers have their Masters in Education.  Indeed this program was mentioned by the students with whom I had lunch.  When I asked them what they liked most about their Landmark experience, they mentioned how they like that their teachers are “learning to teach, we’re learning to learn and it’s like we’re all learning together and they are here to help and are really open and help us to learn.” The sense of a real learning community was palpable in the student comments.  Students who have felt ‘out of place’ at school for much of their life have found a home at Landmark.

After lunch, I met with Robin Day-Laporte, Study Skills Dept Head, and Ariel Martin-Cone, Academic Advisor/Supervisor.  Robin described Landmark’s Study Skills program which is an integral part of the Landmark experience.  I loved how she described the curriculum during the daily 1:1 tutorial, “I (i.e. the student) am the curriculum”. I shared with Robin my current thinking on the IFL ‘whole child’ learning lab and asked for her advice.  Robin highlighted the following, “Kids need to have that conversation, “What are your passions?” What you love should drive what you do. They need reflective time - many adolescents don’t really know what they are into and haven’t taken the time or space to think about it.  The summer is a great time to reflect/recharge.  Kids are open.  Important to NOT have the lab at school.  Space matters a lot for kids.  Summer is a great re-set and recharge for teachers as well.  What could you offer teachers?”

This photo is a snapshot of the learning styles inventory which Ariel uses with students. She described the senior transition curriculum and highlighted a number of resources which I know will help inform the design of the lab, e.g. Raising Resilient Children and Far From The Tree.  We had a great time discussing the ‘Discover Your Talents Inventory’ and Ariel reminded me to check out Sam Goldstein’s work on the Executive Function Inventory.

My visit to Landmark was incredibly informative and I hope I have done justice to the richness of the Landmark work in this blog posting.  Thank you to Henry and Cal for coordinating such a great day of learning.  Be sure to check out Landmark’s outreach resources (workshops, publications, online learning, free tools) on the Landmark Outreach website.

More later!

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!