Friday, January 2, 2009

New Technology High Schools

For those who are involved with their district's Iowa Core leadership teams, you are familiar with the New Technology High Schools, if not by name, then by sight. They are the high schools that are featured in the video clips that illustrate the pedagogy favored in the Iowa Core. Those who attended the High School Summit not only saw several clips during the 21st Century Skills session, but also heard first-hand accounts from Judy Jeffrey, as she visited a school in Texas that made an impact on her.

The schools may have several advantages that districts in Iowa can't afford. They have access to state-of-the-art technology, they maintain small class sizes, and they have the ability to refuse registration. Talk to your local principal if you think these are small details.

Still, the teaching that exists in the video clips is different than teaching in Iowa. A lot different. And it is easy to see why there is buzz amongst progressives and change agents in Iowa, myself included. You can see learning happen, you can see students wanting to be there and learning in an authentic environment.

On one of the handouts from Napa New Technology High School's website, they structure this difference in 5 areas:

By keeping class sizes small, the school not only can personalize education so much easier, but they can make cross-curricular integration not only the rule instead of the exception, but invisible as well. There is no surprise to find out that you will be working on a project with the math teacher and English teacher together.

Many of our schools are relegated to the factory model, somewhat because of limited resources, but probably more so out of tradition. Curriculum is standardized and tracked.

No bells or hall passes at the New Technology High Schools. As a principal, I cannot say how much fruitless time I spent hunting down students because they were in the hallways, not fitting in to our model of how they should regulate themselves (no urinating unless it is in this 2-minute window). The key concept here is that the New Technology High School empowers the student to learn self-management.

Surprise! I like this too.

These schools have made the jump away from "compartmentalized, unrelated, short-term experiences". And scantrons.

Speaking about empowerment, through the use of project-based learning, the New Technology High Schools put the students in charge of their learning. But, they do it well. I've seen several projects in our schools which have become exercises in tri-fold poster displays... these do not develop any worthwhile long-lasting skill, let alone leadership. The NHTS schools have much more thoroughly crafted projects for students to tackle.

Just a quick example. In one of the videos, students are creating presentations that they will share with the community, and will face the working world's scrutiny. That in itself is an authentic project for an authentic audience. But what's more, students were not given a lesson on how to properly make footnotes and citations, even though they were expected to do so. A student had to request a "work session" where they would ask questions of the instructor and the instructor would answer them. This work session was optional... about half the class attended the one I viewed. Students who already knew the material didn't have to attend (and be bored from pointless review).

Who determines what the student needs to know but doesn't know? The student. That's empowerment.

You might be wondering where the "technology" comes into their name. Key for them is a 1:1 setup, giving "access to workplace tools". But, it isn't the tools themselves. It is the fact that the tools give them the ability to do meaningful learning. Collaborative learning. Learning that gets away from some simple "web research, typing reports, and solving basic math equations", which you might see considered as "integration" in other schools.

I do see the smaller schools as important to the flexibility needed for this type of school to flourish. Ironically, with our current budget situation, we'll have fresh calls for more consolidations. Perhaps we need to look at schools within school models to make these smaller learning communities.

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