TEL 705

Course observation journal #3

Part 1: Worksite

I visited High Tech High schools this week on a work visit, and I was thrilled to go. This place connects very well to my PoP, as part of what I’m trying to do is to help schools in Arizona redesign themselves in a fashion that might be inspired by what happens at High Tech High. The school has quite a reputation for being an empowering place for students, and it really shows. The school is based on four important principles:

  • Equity
  • Personalization
  • Authentic work
  • Collaborative design

Each of these pieces contributes an important thread to the fabric of the school. For example, students are chosen at random from a representative makeup of the city’s zip code. The school does not group or track according to ability, and each student has a voice in the curriculum and projects that they work on. Some students were working with the Innocence Project to help wrongfully convicted felons, while others were interviewing local surfers about surfing etiquette and how the surfer’s ethos might align with their own values for their lives. There was a lot to observe and see.

Part 2: Observation notes — Thursday, June 7, 2018

We toured High Tech High International in a student guided tour, and it is the second time I’ve visited this space. Similar to my recollections from my 2015 visit, the first thing you notice is the way the space feels and looks. Generally spacious with lots of light and bare infrastructure, the HTH spaces are living organisms or systems that seem to undergo constant change. Student work products literally make up the space, as well as serve as the decor. Students here are more or less free to come and go as they please, and there is very little happening here that would clue a careless observer in to the fact that they’re even in a school.

A real highlight of the trip for me was the opportunity to participate in one of the 11th grade Humanities classes’ Comida Con Causa cooking demonstrations. For this project, students were tasked with interviewing local chefs at Latin American restaurants, to discuss their personal histories and cultures, and to have a broader conversation about food security in San Diego. Students also focused on a dish at each restaurant, obtained the recipe and brought it back to school. We showed up at the PERFECT time with the project, when students had us collaboratively cook – and EAT! – the dish, while the students shared the stories of their chef/restaurant and of their dish. This project was a combination of humanities and Spanish classes, and included important ties to history and geography, too.

We whipped up a salsa verde from scratch, using tomatillos and serrano chiles, and lightly fried some tortillas that we filled with cheese. We rolled the tortillas into smaller taquito sized rolls in order to make enough for all in attendance, and then simmered them in our salsa verde. We topped the enchiladas with plenty cheese and sour cream, which seemed in line with prep for enchiladas suizas (“suizas” being related to Swiss, a nod to the dairy-laden origin of the dish). All in all, the result was delicious!

This place

Part 3: Readings

From this week’s readings, this space obviously jumped out to me as a diffusion of innovation (Bentley, 2009). What happens here at HTH has spread all across the country by others. Documentaries like Most Likely to Succeed and books like Deeper Learning have been spreading the message of HTH and have given it quite a reputation. What started as one school has now spread into a network of 14 HTH schools across the San Diego footprint. As Bentley noted, “beyond its potential, we should ask whether the growing emphasis on innovation and diffusion amounts to a model of systemic change relevant to the governance, leadership, and reform of mass schooling systems. There are many barriers to such change, including sunk investment in old models, producer capture and the cost of making disruptive transitions” (p. 32). I think from the standpoint of HTH’s diffusion, they have really been able to shake off investment in old models, though it’s worth acknowledging they have had huge amounts of funding to create their new models.

Part 4: Integrations

HTH is almost a perfect example of what a modern school could be, and yet it is not without problems, from the perspective of my PoP. It is an example of people who knew the system wasn’t working, so they left the system and created their own school. Most of my work is taking place with people who can’t do that – just leave the system. What I want to explore going forward is how we can use models like HTH, but within the current systems we have. 

  • What would Bentley’s diffusion of innovation theory in education tell us about how we might start to create that kind of systems change?
Student work projects decorating the wall at High Tech High International
Student work projects decorating the wall at High Tech High International
"Poetrees" project at High Tech High Middle
“Poetrees” project at High Tech High Middle
The periodic table of elements, comprised of student depictions of each element, at High Tech High International
The periodic table of elements, comprised of student depictions of each element, at High Tech High International
Signage at High Tech High International, sharing with students that they are loved, valued, welcome and safe
Signage at High Tech High International, sharing with students that they are loved, valued, welcome and safe

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