High Tech High Reflections

High Tech High. Not so tech, but sets the standard on project/problem based learning, oh so high. High Tech High is located in San Diego. It is a choice school where the students are guided by four design principles–equity, personalization, authentic work, and collaborative design.

Let’s just say, I was amazed at how a school could run when focused more on PBL and learning for education sake and not the grade. Don’t get me wrong, I think many schools focus is the same, however based on the freedom this school has, it’s just different. Public schools, where I teach, have standards that we focus on, a wider range of student needs, college prep classes we incorporate, just a completely different set up than this charter school.

However, despite the differences there is so much that I got out of it!

My 7 takeaways from High Tech High:

  1. Don’t build a project to please yourself (the teacher), but for someone or something (an audience). I feel like so often we build projects or instruct our class based on our own personal interests. But in all reality students are living in a different time, when we as teachers were in high school. We have to get out of our comfort zone and teach to students desires and interests. I think you’d be amazed of what your classroom will look like.
  1. Focus on the 3Ps: Participation, Process & Product. I think so often we as teachers can get “nitpicky” on grading. We have to grade every assignment, with a specific grade scale etc, etc, etc. Sometimes it gets mundane. I have my students do work everyday, but sometimes they don’t receive a grade for EVERY assignment. I make some assignments worth more points, due to what they lead to in the bigger picture. I know I will grade heavy in their active participation, the process and the final product.
  1. Work towards your passion. My passion in education is to prepare teachers and students to teach in the 21st century. I want them to feel empowered and make an impact with their own lives, but in the lives of others. In order for me to achieve this, I have to go outside of my comfort zone and put in work. I work almost everyday to find ways to innovate my colleagues and students. Working hard, has given me so much to be proud of and has made it possible for teachers and students to be motivated for learning.
  1. They do what I do. No fear in failure. I have to continue to promote a growth mindset in my class. I have to continue to work outside of my comfort zone and not be afraid to take a leap. Over the course of the year I failed publically and privately. I’ve shared this openly with my students so that way they can see this, there can be no fear, when aiming for new goals. You may fail and fall, but you may fly!
  1. Be explicit about why they are doing what they are doing. Teach/Coach them about what they are doing. Being open and honest with what students are doing goes a long way. Building an honest and open rapport with your students can help cultivate meaningful projects and learning. Being a constant voice of support and direction, can encourage them along the way.
  1. Publish student work. It engages students and let’s them see the value in their work. I need to be better at this! I have started digital portfolios within my classroom, however they don’t necessarily show ALL the hard work my students have put in over the course of the year. I know that the portfolios are a great way to showcase their work, but have exhibitions can also be a way to allow the community to know what my students are capable of. It was huge when one HTH teacher said, don’t just make the “trashcan” projects, make them something memorable and worth publishing!
  1. Listen to why students are not engaged. THIS IS HUGE! Many students become disengaged in content quickly. This directly ties back the my takeaway #1. Students have a voice, they have feelings emotions, desires, motivations etc., we have to listen to them. We have to then take what they say and tie it into our curriculum, somehow, someway!

Cultivating meaningful instruction is hard, but we have to be willing to put in the work. This year I tried HyperDocs for the first time, and it changed the way I instruct. My students were engaged and motivated. Their assessment scores showed a 15% improvement. My plea to my fellow educators is….take the leap, do the work, enjoy the process, build relationships with your students, and show off what they produce. It will amaze you and make your career more worthwhile.

All in all, I was encouraged to know that I’m not far off the path of what HTH is doing. This being an ideal school, I am doing a lot of what they are doing, just on a different scale. After visiting, I know that I must continue to pursue my passion, and continue to dive into the passions of my students.