High Tech High: 21st Century Learning – Faculty Professional Development Reflection


Each summer, several of our teachers are given the opportunity to travel to San Diego to visit High Tech High, an innovative school paving the way in 21st Century learning. High Tech High’s project-based approach to education is delivering new ways of thinking and producing advanced learners. Our teachers attend workshops at HTH to bring these teaching skills, concepts and methods back to CCS so our students can utilize the best that 21st century learning has to offer. Ms. Austin Howell (Art) and Mrs. Jodie Haynie (4th grade) reflect on their experiences below, sharing their excitement about what they learned with the CCS community!

Ms. Howell:

This summer I was given the amazing opportunity to represent CCS at a teacher conference at High Tech High. I had heard many things about this school, and had seen the documentary “Most Likely To Succeed,” but nothing compared to stepping into the school building in San Diego, California. Upon arrival, I was overwhelmed by the amount of beautiful student artwork and projects on the walls. The building itself calls for the impressive opportunity to showcase student projects with an industrial style of exposed ceilings, untraditionally-shaped classrooms, and a multi-level open concept. Not only was there a plethora of artwork, but each section of projects was displayed in a unique manner.  As an art teacher, I couldn’t help but take many notes and countless photos of the projects I saw. I look forward to implementing some of these display techniques into how I showcase student work on our campus!

While in San Diego, I was also fortunate to be able to attend the HTH Middle School “Exhibition Night.” This event brought parents, friends, and other community members to the school to see the middle school students’ presentations of major projects or themes that their class had studied during the school year. This immediately reminded me of the CCS 8th grade exhibitions and the 10th grade exhibition night that challenges our students to express deeper learning by presenting their academic experiences using cross-curricular projects. This comparison made me proud of how CCS uses the Project-Based Learning model to prepare our students for the real world by instilling in them skills such as collaboration, communication, teamwork, and creativity.

So, what did I take away from this experience? I recognized that CCS does not have to “become” High Tech High in order to make project-based learning effective. We are doing a lot of the right things already that make CCS such a wonderful and distinctive school environment. However, we can always learn from what other schools are doing – including what works and what doesn’t work – to continue to enhance the Project-Based Learning model in the most constructive way for our students.

I’ll end by mentioning a project I have personally taken on this summer that was inspired by my trip to HTH. Process and informal assessment were themes of the conference, and my goal is to put myself “into the role of a student” by coming up with an essential question, working with deadlines, and recording my process. This project really challenges my skills in Adobe Photoshop and portrait rendering! My exhibition will be a surprise to the CCS students, hence the lack of details here…but I will say that my trip to HTH confirmed that so much of what I can do to be an effective teacher depends on guiding my students in meaningful and engaging projects. Encouraging them to think about their process along the way is just as important as focusing on the end result.

Mrs. Haynie:

Learning and traveling are two of my favorite things to do, so I felt honored to be asked to attend High Tech High’s Spring Residency in San Diego. The main focus of the presentations and conversations surrounded the concept of “Assessment 2.0.”  I’ve always liked a play on words, and it sparked my interest when a facilitator pointed out that the word assessment actually has ‘assess me’ written right there in the word. Do you see it? The same facilitator went on to explain that “Assessment 1.0” describes the process of the teacher as the only one giving feedback to a student. Now comes “Assessment 2.0”: imagine having your work or a project analyzed by not only your teachers, but also your peers and the members of community around you. I’m talking about authentic assessment that is dialogical, informative, equitable, personal, collaborative, experiential, engaging, and perhaps enlightening.

Well, this was my take away from the conference: CCS doesn’t have to imagine doing Assessment 2.0 – because we are already doing it in so many ways. Are there ways for us to improve? Of course! However, it is exciting to me to know that what we are doing here at CCS is what other schools who are on the forefront of education are practicing. The more we incorporate project-based learning, the more we create well-rounded, reflective students. Implementing thoughtful projects into our curriculum fosters essential habits of the mind and heart in our students, which they will long possess after graduating. I wholeheartedly believe CCS is on the right path with educating our students, instilling in them knowledge and skills they need to be productive and successful citizens. Being the adventurer I am, I am happy to be along for the ride!

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