Monday, April 22, 2013

High School Redesigned... Commenting on Jeff Kiderman's Question at JEDCAMPNJNY.

No bells.  No "periods."  No courses.  No Insanely long days.  No tests?  Possibly optional.  Definitely no classrooms in the traditional sense. I'm willing to entertaining starting school later in the morning.  Interdisciplinary all the way.  In Jewish schools, this needs to be a complete break down between the artificial separation of secular and Judaic studies.  Schools should look like offices.   I envision three spaces or zones: an area with cubicles, a boardroom, and even one or more project rooms with tables and seats that wheel. If we want to prepare our students for the 21st century, they need to dwell in it.

Eighteen projects a year instead of classes.  Entirely interdisciplinary.  Students complete roughly 6 a "trimester." Although, the notion of artificial periods of time seems archaic to me.  The project either aims to answer a question or solve a problem.  Their are options within each as to how and what to create and what to focus on within a given framework.  Some projects, roughly 3 a year for the first two years are entirely self directed and student created. An example of a project could be "Who Shot JFK?" In which students look at the history, forensics, data analysis, science, and literature from the time period.

After the project is assigned, students go to their cubicles to learn about the topics surrounding the project and get the basics.  They tap into videos from Khan Academy, Skype with experts in the field, research the information needed to start their task. The teachers circulate the room helping to facilitate this process and answer any questions or provide tips about how to go about finding out the information. In this project, you might see a few days a week science teachers roaming the cubicles or a few hours that first week.

You might see history teachers, lit teachers, science, and math teachers all walking around available to facilitate student learning simultaneously. Some could come to school weekly or be available via skype.  If the project requires specific core knowledge or skills and students need to interact with a teacher, a section of the room with a particularly large cubicle and many seats can enable them to talk face to face with the teacher or they can pop into the boardroom before going into groups to answer any questions or clarify any points.  Teachers can also go individually to cubicles to help students who need.  Once in groups, they move into the project room.

The project room contains circular medium size tables that wheel.   Enough seating for 5 to 6 students around each with laptops or ipads comfortably.     They aim to solve the project's dilemma by creating a thesis and supporting it.  This need not be a tradition thesis paper, instead it can be solved in a host of creative ways from board games, to data analysis, graphing, and pie charts, to radio broadcasts or news shows, or interviews, advertisement campaigns, creating non-profit organization, or running a business or even by giving over a lesson to fellow students.  Students can propose to do a project that is entirely unique.  They work for a week or more on ironing out the project, conducting research, working as a team, designing their product.  Each student is required to create a role for themselves which they will be given feedback on individually as well as the group as a whole.

This project is peer reviewed in the boardroom.  The boardroom operates sort of like the Harkness Method, a tried and true method first establish at Phillips Exeter Academy.  I liken the experience in the boardroom to presenting your doctoral thesis. So, it's more intense that the discussion of Harkness typically.  Each student must be prepared both as a group and individually despite whatever role they took in the project. They must know their project cold.  They must be able to explain it.  They must be able to justify it.  They must sell it, as Daniel Pink's new book talks about.

Feedback is the key to this process.  Rubrics?  At first teacher created, eventually consensus created.  Inquiry based learning?  Within a framework of required content for the first two years.  Internships?  One internship a trimester.  Right away in "9th grade" once a week.  Senior year?  Optional.  Year 3 would be an intense focus on expertise or specialization in a specific area.  These are my thoughts towards progress....