Thursday, June 6, 2013

Reimagining High School with The Future Project

Teachers at The Future Project are called Dream Directors,
and the school has a Curiosity Director. We love that!

Last night, Penina Warburg, Pearl Mattenson, Jeff Kiderman and I [Tikvah Wiener] went to a workshop by The Future Project entitled Reimagining High School. From the moment we stepped into the building on Front Street, the office The Future Project shares with, appropriately enough, an animation studio, education felt different. The "office" is a warm, fun environment; it looks like a house, with its brick walls, fireplace and wood floors, and it's decorated with playful and thought-provoking objects, such as an ornately framed portrait of a wide-eyed baby, twisted iron masks with student-made portraits beneath them, and a wooden sled. The decor of the building reinforced the notion that the visual stimulation students receive in their learning environment is crucial to igniting curiosity and excitement about learning.

The Panel

The evening began with a panel comprised of Tony Wagner, author of Creating Innovators; Scott Kaufman, who recently published Ungifted, a post-Howard Gardner book about the need to redefine intelligence so we don't penalize children with labels; Iltimas Doha, a student we hope to work with on his education reform projects; and another amazing and articulate student, a senior who has already created her own company. The panel participants, each in their own way, drove us to imagine what high school would look like if, in The Future Project's terms, it was a place of dream building and curiosity creation, rather than a warehouse for standardized testing. RealSchool also loved the fact that a Harvard Fellow, Tony Wagner, was onstage with students not even out of high school. Go, #stuvoice!

By the way, have you seen Tony Wagner in action?

The Audience

Tim Shriver, CEO of the Special Olympics, moderated the panel and got the audience talking about how we're already reimagining high school. We were energized by the ideas we heard:

* One woman said her Muslim school begins the year by having all the students walk to the school garden where they bury the word "CAN'T." They mourn and lament the word and then return to the building whereupon can't is a bad word, and school is a place where there's no cursing. Therefore, if a student says, "I can't," she'll get a response along the lines of "We don't say that word in this school!" You get the picture.

* Angela Maiers said she had just left a school in Philadelphia that's having its seniors come up with a solution to a real-world problem. Students had to find something in the world that breaks their heart, come up with a plan to solve the problem and then submit genuine proposals to relevant organizations. Obviously, such a project is right up RealSchool's alley.

* Another audience member pointed out that a lot of schools have already reimagined high school and are doing exciting and innovative things with their students. The schools this participant mentioned included:

      Science Leadership Academy, which we wrote about after we visited
      The Met School, in Providence, Rhode Island, created by Dennis Littky, an awesome educator and visionary
      Cornerstone Academy for Social Action in the Bronx

The Sessions

At the end of the panel, Tony Wagner charged us with the task of coming up with a new way to explain what having a high school diploma means. If a HS diploma is no longer going to mean students have "served a certain number of hours of seat time" or taken x number of tests, what should having a high school diploma certify? We were directed into the "Visions Tables" we had selected online, prior to the night of the event. 

Making as Learning

I had chosen Making as Learning, so our group's task was to decide on how creation was going to be a process of the high school experience. The result of our session was that we felt a high school diploma should mean that:

Students have engaged in the process of making with the self and with others and have also engaged in the process of teaching what they have learned and accomplished to others. Students should understand the purpose of making and should have created an artifact(s) of importance to them and/or to the world.

Thus our competency emphasized the need to master creation as an individual, in a group and as an instructor.

Community-Based Learning

I also liked what Penina's group came up with. She was in a session entitled Community-Based Learning, run by Daniel Petter-Lipstein. That group's angle was so different from Making as Learning's, but just as important. Since Community-Based Learning was looking at a high school diploma through the lens of the community, they emphasized a competency that required students to have empathy, though we all acknowledge that's a difficult thing to measure.

Social and Emotional Learning

This group's competency was also deeply important. It emphasized students' needing to demonstrate self-awareness and social awareness; the ability to recognize feeling states and to self-regulate their feelings. It required students to be in touch with body, mind and spirit and to have experienced a relationship of deep trust that would enable them to take risks, endure failures and express the vulnerability that leads to being known, seen and heard. 


Last Things

We also heard some comments during the night that we loved:

One woman said she starts her year wishing her students lots of failure. She tells her students, "I hope you make a lot of mistakes, because mistakes are how you learn."

We know that! That's why we made our failure wall: FailSafe: RealSchool Failure Wall

Here are some of our favorite recent additions:

That moment 7 hours ago when you thought you were going to do your homework.

I was trying to teach youngsters how to throw a frisbee and I hit an old woman in the face with said frisbee. True fact.

Another thing we loved was a comment during a discussion about reassessing assessment. When process is more important than a final answer, we can appropriate from the language of gaming and start-ups:

We need to learn when to pivot and when to persevere.

Great stuff from a great night. Thanks to The Future Project for being such an inpiration!

The Digital Badge Learning Network

Check out the badge learning program Sarah Blattner has created and the schools that will be piloting a badge program in the 2013-14 school year:

Four schools selected for 2013-2014 pilot to develop badge-empowered learning programs

Portland, OR—June 5, 2013TAMRITZ, a digital badge learning network for Jewish Day Schools, announced today the first four schools selected to pioneer its connected learning community. The following schools will form TAMRITZ’s 2013-2014 cohort:
TAMRITZ will provide schools with in-person training, a networked community of practice and ongoing coaching to design and implement their own badge learning programs. Beginning with a summer professional development course, Digital Age Teaching, cohort teachers will be immersed in a badge-based experience, focused on learning in the digital age, relevant research and connected learning. In the fall, schools will partner with TAMRITZ to co-facilitate a badge-based digital media literacy course for their middle school students. Schools will begin to roll out their self-designed badge learning programs semester two, 2014.

Digital badge learning takes a traditional system of awarding badges for achievements to a new media level. Guided by their teachers, students explore their own interests and acquire knowledge and skills. Each digital badge they earn becomes an electronic credential that contains not only what the student understands and has accomplished, but also the methods used and data about the institution that sponsored the learning experience. These badges can then be shared through social media from a digital backpack, providing transparent transcripts for students’ skills and achievements.

Selected schools demonstrate an innovative spirit and readiness for transforming how learning happens, according to Sarah Blattner, TAMRITZ’s founder and executive director. “These schools are willing to experiment and explore how digital badge learning can engage students,” said Myrna Rubel, chief advisor for TAMRITZ’s Advisory Council and principal of the Epstein Middle School. Rubel is the pioneer of Epstein’s badging program, where she has discovered that “true learning takes place when students have choice, create meaning with their in-school and out-of-school lives and connect and develop relationships with teacher advisors.”

TAMRITZ, meaning “incentive” in Hebrew, seeks to ignite collaborative learning between Jewish Day School teachers and students through its digital badge learning network. Through the support of the Joshua Venture Group’s Dual Investment Program and the AVI CHAI Foundation, TAMRITZ will match the program fees with in-kind support for each participating school for the first year of engagement.

TAMRITZ scaffolds its learning network with exemplary instructional practices, including project-based learning and teacher-as-coach, to give students a chance to create their own meaning. "We believe that every child has a spark within them: A spark of passion, creativity and excellence. Badge learning will help us nurture each child's spark, personalize their learning and gauge students’ understandings of Habits of Mind through our Beit Midrash program,” said Dr. Nitzan Resnick and Rabbi David Paskin, co-heads of the Kehillah Schechter Academy, Norwod, MA. “Our school will implement a badge learning program that offers new courses and differentiates the learning experience for our students, said Katie May, principal, Seattle Hebrew Academy. “Our teachers are excited to move in this bold new direction.”

Sarah Blattner, Executive Director, TAMRITZ
Kehillah Schechter Academy, Norwood, MA
Rabbi David Paskin, co-head of school
Krieger Schechter Day School, Baltimore, MD
Shelley Hendler, Head of Middle School
The Moriah School, Englewood, NJ
Dr. Elliot Prager, Principal
Seattle Hebrew Academy, Seattle, WA
Katie May, Principal