It’s 6:30. That big old beautiful California sun has just brought light to a new day.
The class of 15 has gathered for the day’s research. To be sure it’s an early start for teenagers, but they so love their oceanography class that an opportunity to share their enthusiasm with visiting teachers is irresistible. The students are about half way through their studies for this term, so all know exactly what they need to do for not only today’s research but also to give a demonstration of what they are up to.
A small group is loading kayaks into San Diego Bay, headed for a cliff where they are studying the impact of ocean waves on the largely clay and sandstone embankments. Another group is dawning snorkel gear in preparation for studying a grouping of lobsters and assorted marine life in a favoured bay.
The photography group is busy adjusting the controls of the drone so that useable footage can be obtained from a section of the shore they are studying.
And the visitng teachers, myself included, are just a bit awe struck with how smoothly things appear to be happening.
This is a new type class for the school, and preliminary reviews of progress are positive. Enrollment in the Oceanography class is by subject, not grade. So the class is comprised of students from grades 9 through 12, with the accompanying mix of knowledge and levels of understanding. This class has been created through shared interest, not age.
The year started with a day of open minds and exploration on the bay. Each student had to develop a question. That was enlarged into a project that required research. And that in turn lead to a final project that had a possible solution to a discovered or imagined problem.
The concept behind all classes at High Tech High is to develop in students the skills necessary to solve problems, not memorize answers to questions. The teachers are not the fonts of wisdom, but the creators of questions that lead students to search for new answers and possibilities.
The concept of High Tech High dates back over 10 years, when the CEO of QualComm, a San Diego technology company, became frustrated with brilliant technology workers who could write code like crazy but couldn’t write solutions to solve new problems. The difficulty, he reasoned, could not be solved at the University and College level: it had to start at the beginning of the educational road. High School maybe, but perhaps even before that. Now the Charter School, High Tech High, has 10 campuses in San Diego offering Project-Based Learning from Kindergarten to Grade 12 to students from the area, with admittance based on an equitable Zip Code lottery system. And a Faculty of Education for adults wishing to achieve their teaching certificate by working and practicing in an actual learning environment. They follow all students after graduation to ensure that the 98% success rate they boast is based on fact. And success.
Each year for the past 7 years High Tech High has sponsored a 3 day “Deeper Learning” conference at their campus, attracting educators from around the world anxious to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to institute this approach back home and become immersed in a day long “Deep Dive” with students and faculty to fully understand what is required to achieve results. There was 1400 at the conference this year, but with over 50 Deep Dives, the number of participants in each one paralleled what would be practical in a classroom. My classmates for the day were primarily from America, but there were others from Canada, along with Italy, Australia, New Zealand, Kazakhstan, India, and South Africa. Big thanks to the 2 instructors for the day: Brian Delgado and Andrew Lerario
And good luck to Adam for getting that shark tagged by the end of the term.
To give you an idea of the type of terrain the students are studying and a few reflections from teachers who participated in the adventures of the day, you can view this short video: https://youtu.be/wf4LObI008w