Dispatch from High Tech High: Chris’s class #lfvisithth

March 16, 2011 at 2:27 pm Leave a comment

by Alec Patton

This week, I’m at High Tech High in San Diego, where we’re working with them on a guide to enquiry- and project-based learning. This is a very rough-and-ready impression of some of what I’ve been seeing – hence why I’m caling it a ‘dispatch’.

So, this morning I was reading a beautiful display of photos students had taken of themselves with one line from a performance poem they’d written describing themselves. They being teenagers, some of the lines were pretty intense (and inspired: one kid compared himself to the ‘question mark block’ from Super Mario Brothers). While I was taking this in, Chris Wakefield (a 9th grade math and science teacher) walked past and invited me to come check out his classroom. Chris and I knew each other only to the extent that I’d sat next to him when I sat in on a staff meeting earlier that morning – to describe High Tech High as ‘welcoming’ doesn’t begin to cover it).

Chris’s had just finished a project called physics fonts in which kids created images of words from physics, written in ways which visually represented the concept that the word refers to.

This is the first draft of the 'physics font' representation of acceleration

'Acceleration' second draft (the final drafts of these haven't been uploaded yet)

Today, Chris and the humanities teacher with whom he team-teaches were giving a physics quiz, so they had the dividers between their classes down. The kids had already taken the quiz once, and today he was giving them forty minutes studying time before the test. So, even when HTH does tests, they do them in ways that confounded my expectations.

Chris told me to go talk to the kids, so I went walking around the tables. At one table, a kid politely pointed out I’d taken his seat, and then asked me if I could give him a  hand with some physics concepts he didn’t grasp. Fortunately, another kid piped up with ‘that’s a graph of velocity you’re pointing at’ before I had the opportunity to lead him astray.

At another table, a girl said ‘we’re the slow table, none of us understand this’. I told them I hadn’t remembered how to I was asking them about physics fonts, and they explained their final version was painted on wood. One kid said ‘do you want me to show you?’ He led me down the hall and showed me some of the work, including the one he thought was best. I asked if I could see his, and he showed me, and told me he hadn’t had a partner so he had a really tough time and his wasn’t very good. He showed me that the cut along the bottom was rough, and said ‘I think I’ll get graded down for that.’

When I left, Chris came out with me and told me that kid had been having trouble with his projects – was really worried about his grades, and had reason to be. So Chris was really pleased to see that the kid take the initiative to show a stranger the work that the class had been doing.

If this dispatch was just too polished for you, and you want something even more raw and direct, you can follow our live blog from High Tech High here (scroll to the end of Dave’s blog post to see it)


Entry filed under: Education & Children's Services.

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