We have moved into the English classroom adjacent to the lab for the english period of the three hour lab. We begin with a rocking and silly video projected, Quack, which features vocabulary words, each vividly characterized with music, dialogue, and many evocative or dramatic images for about 60 seconds. Today, it is ornate, austere, cerebral, incommodious, noisome, cacophony, veritable, verbatim, concurrent, evade, impede, askew, accolade, torrid, trepidation, fraught, wane, temerity, oust.
My ambassadors, Timmy and Jimmy, tell me they think the video is really helpful– they say because it does such a good job giving them a vivid image of each word, that they can visualize the meaning makes it easier to remember. Most have a scene emotionally evocative, and situated in really specific places. Michelle says she is more likely to remember torrid because she heard and watched them say the cave is torrid, and she will be able to visualize the cave location which torrid describes, and remember that it looked really hot. I have been intrigued by brain research reports about how much memory is improved when tied to really specific geography, because our brain is built by natural selection to especially effectively remember new learnings associated with particular places.
After the video, the kids take a little quick matching quiz of the 20 words– and my ambassadors both get 100.
The class-room here is absolutely amazing– every square inch of the high walls is busy in a great way, decorated with books, cover out hanging from big clips, 100s of them; student prepared posters; literary posters; and a set of bookshelves with hundreds more titles. Very stimulating; I love it. Every book, or most, seem to be somehow related to the field of bioengineering: Robin Cook novels like Coma and Contagion, Kathy Reichs books about pathology, etc.
We are now working on multiple intelligences– the teacher has passed out a survey, designed to elicit everyone’s individual intelligence areas. Good attention at this school, I am noting over and over again, to the meta-cognitive. Of course, that should be no surprise– Cognitive comprehension is the first of the school’s five core design principles.
After students have taken their survey, they are to either work on a powerpoint project to strengthen vocabulary. For each word, they prepare a slides on which they use the word in writing which connects to them personally and/or associate an image with it.
The other activity for them right now is to go-online with their laptops and work through a teacher-created “rags to riches” online game to better “familiarize them with bio-engineering content.” Nice use of laptops, game playing, and challenge to develop knowledge of core terms. I tried the game myself– it is challenging and a bit addicting.
During break I walk to the rest-room, and notice many students in the central atrium texting, talking on their cellphones, or listening to ipods. I ask my “ambassadors” here, Timmy, Jimmy, and “Michelle” who has joined us, about the policy, and they tell me that here the rule is you can use your phone if you are doing so in a non-disruptive way, responsibly. Not in the middle of class, and if you abuse your use you will be “confronted” by a teacher, but they treat you like adults– you can use the technology responsibly. We compare this to working as an adult in a professional environment. This goes in synch, they tell me, with other school policies, like not having bells, not having hall passes, etc. When I ask if anyone uses smartphones in class for academic purposes, they tell me that there is no need– they all have laptops available to them anytime they need.
Students are doing a lab here, with good self-direction and collaboration. Wearing lab coats and goggles, they are swabbing inside cheeks, smearing and staining it, then studying the result under the microscope.
Here now with “Timmy” and “Jimmy,” my ambassadors this afternoon, in Biomedical Engineering Lab (whew! not something we had when I was in high school). Three teachers here for 45-50 students. Pretty conventional lab space, but nicely appointed, the chairs seem like $100 chairs. We are here in the advance science topics lab at the start- measuring the water in magnesium hydrate; the teacher told the class a story about hitting, killing, a bird in mid-air with a golf stroke, and asked the kids whether that was likely to happen a second time: the point being that one-time data points may be very meaningless unless they can be repeated, but the story hooks them by its drama, humor, and personalization.
The teacher provides me a course outline, complete with these UbD essential questions: “What the heck is BioEngineering, and who the heck cares? How would you go about becoming a BioTechnologist? What would you be doing if you were a bioengineer or in some related field? What are the tools and techniques of bioengineering and how can they be used to improve our quality of life? Are the practices of bioengineering compatible with your personal ethics/morals/beliefs? How can bioengineering be used to improve the health problems of people living in the SJV caused by environmental problems? How does your environment and culture influence you? What are health issues related to the environment?”
And these UbD Understandings: 1. Bioengineering includes a broad group of definitions based upon the manipulation of living things for human gain or the application of science and technology for the improvement of our quality of life. 3. Humans are defined by both their DNA and their environment. 4. The relationship between DNA and protein is the basis for life and one’s nature. 6. employing HOMs and teamwork are tools for efficient and effective work. 7. Environmental problems are complex, requiring study from many points of view. Biotechnology can be applied to studying environmental issues or may be used in offering solutions to problems caused by the issue.
At this point in the lab, the group of four is working on lab calculations. One student explains to me, very acutely, that they all do the calculation, and then check to see if they got the same answer, and if not, they work together to see where their calculations went wrong. The students are doing all the work here, the teacher moving around in support.
Nice conversation here with this group of four. These students have a great ability to reflect upon on their schooling, because they have a daily experience of comparing and contrasting, attending, as they do, two schools. “Here, I am NEVER bored,” in contrast to the other school, “where I am bored everyday.” Here it is “always hands-on,” “you have lab three times a week” compared to “once a month,” and you use all the equipment in the lab, rather than looking at it wistfully. At the other school the assignments are all about step by step very specific directions, but here they just give you little sets of directions or some supplies and say do something with this, and then expect you to ask questions.
I ask about the hardest thing they had to do here, and the students tell me about Spring Showcase. For environmental science, you had to come up with your own experiment, and you have mentors from off-campus, (one student said her mentor was an aquarium scientist), and it runs out over three months, and you present all your findings and research to the public at a big open house in three media: powerpoint, poster board, and essay form, an essay of 4-12 pages. The outside public attends the open house, making it truly a public demonstration. The labs also participate in a competition of showcases judged by a panel of outside experts, with scholarship rewards. They speak about showcase with a very positive affect– it is not a drudgery, clearly, but it is a challenge.
Great conversation with the three teachers who collaborate to teach Law and Policy; they have 72 students in the morning, 45 in the afternoon, the three of them. they explained that each has a designation, “teacher-on-record” for English, US History, and Law– but they call it that, teacher on record, in quotes, because they work so hard to make the integration seamless, where they are all teaching all subject in an integrated fashion. That said, though, they also really respect each other’s discipline expertise. Wonderful enthusiasm– they love teaching here, and explain that in contrast to other school environments for teachers. “Teachers here say hello to each other in the hallway, they really feel a common purpose around the CART design principles,” they explained to me.
The teaching is really focussed in support of projects– right now the students are preparing for a town hall in which ballot issues will be presented, and they are researching in the real-world the legal and policy implications for each issue, while each teacher ensure her disciplines standards are being met. They provided me a syllabus I want to summarize, but no time now. They explained the two hours mid-day is great– one hour for planning, one for a break, but often they overlap.
I asked in what ways does the administration here support the teachers, and they offered very nice endorsements. First, the teachers here are really treated and respected as “professionals, not condescended to or patronized. ” Second, there is a great deal of trust in the school, and the teachers can really trust that the administration is highly competent, and the teachers feel trusted by the administration. Third, the administrators are very available, you can always go to them, and they really treat your concerns as important, significant, not to be dismissed, but really worthy of their full time and consideration. Fourth, they show great dedication in support of the teachers– I heard of a new teacher being hired and having both administrators here meet her, observe her teaching at length, and then accompany her to a series of district interviews. I asked whether something in the culture of the school might facilitate the trusting environment, and there was some thinking that yes, the design principles helped with that.
We concluded by talking again about the kids. It was noted that there is a real wide diversity of learners here, some very strong and some not, but that this new approach really changes the equation. Some students find it hard to adjust to, the project based format, and they are stunned that they are not being directed every minute task by task, but that they grow into it after a while. They say it is great to see some students who were not always high achievers elsewhere respond and really rise to this, really perform and surprise themselves; interestingly they also said that some students who were really successful in previous, conventional schooling, were challenged here, and had to tap into new sides of their intelligence and develop new skills for success here– which is a great concept, that this is hard for kids sometimes who found previous schooling easy.
It is the two hour break, now. CART has almost 1400 students, but divided into AM and PM groups of about 700 each, divided into some 12 labs. The am group is here from 730 to 1030, and then the teacher have two hours for break and collaborative planning with no students on site before the pm group gets here at 1230. This is brilliant– you can’t do collaborative and integrated instruction without rich common planning time, yet most schools cannot provide that, which they have here so strongly every day. Each student then has only one class here– a Lab it is called, for the three hours they are here, taught by 3 or 4 teachers and integrating English and Sciences or Social Studies, getting credit for four classes.
I enjoy a 45 minute conversation and walk-around with John Forbes, the Dean of Curriculum and Instruction and co-author of the Ed. Leadership article I liked so much. (Thank you for the time, John. ) John said so many interesting things I wish I had a tape recorder, but here are a few bullet points. He said he is unaware of any other US school doing integration like they are here, at least any other public school– integrating four class periods into one integrated unit. I was fascinated to hear that he has almost zero discipline cases to manage (from among 1400 students); he attributes this in part to the self-selection of kids who come here, but much more to way the school is structured. Kids don’t have to change subjects every hour following a bell, and don’t have to adjust constantly to changing teacher expectations. Plus, having multiple teachers in a classroom really helps with discipline– the teachers can tag-team, trade-off, support the students, be advocates for individual students, be problem-solvers on the spot. There is also more accountability for teachers and students when there are multiple adults in a room.
John said the dropout rate here is less than five percent, whereas it can be as high as 25-40 percent at other public high schools in the area, and looking around, I am not surprised. The first week in, right at the start, he has kids who arrive and are a bit stunned, it is so different from what they are used to, so much cleaner and adult and professional, that sometimes they are intimidated and want to leave right away– but they counsel the kids to be patient, to give it a try, and most of the time they stay. John showed me the very corporate (in a good way) looking theater, seating probably 100 or so, with a great deal of technical equipment, and said that every student has present, in teams, from the stage. He says he has to hide this sometimes, when advertising the school, because kids would avoid it– public speaking and presenting being so daunting– but that once the kids have done it they say it is one of the best things they have done.
Finally, we spoke about measuring success– John said they are really working on that here. He cited Collins and his social sector monograph of Good to Great, and quoted Collins’ to the point that social services have to define their own success, not having the market available to do it for them by stock price or profit margin. So, the school is embarking on a success measurement process, keying off their five design principles, such that can measure student progress on each: Cognition; Academics; Real-World Connections; Technology; and Personalization.
Here is a list of labs, which can also be looked at here: Forensic Research and Biotechnology; Biomedicine; Environmental Research and Technology; Biomedical Engineering; Engineering and Product Development; Robotics and Electronics; Architectural Design; Economics and Finance; Marketing and Advertising; Law and Order and Policy; Psychology and Human Behavior; Multimedia-Digital Video Production and Broadcast; Multimedia– Graphic Arts and Web Design; Network Management and Computer Maintenance; Web Application Development; and Interactive (Video) Game Design. Remember, each student takes only one of these labs, for half a day, for a full year; sometimes they take a second year in the same lab, sometimes they switch to a new one the second year.
Back in the classroom now, reviewing what we discovered in lab. (On the whiteboard is the course wiki address– I check it out and it hosts the assignments. Teacher told me that he is just getting the wiki going, still, but I like it. ) We have determined, by class-time’s end, that the patient, Billy, has suffered from a pesticide poisoning, but we know not the source. The plot thickens– and class is dismissed with the mystery still lingering, still puzzling us– and drawing us to come back tomorrow to learn more.
Jackie, my ambassador for the morning, has to run to the bus; we speak briefly. I ask her to compare her learning here with her home school, and she tells me she thinks she learns more here, and remembers stuff better, because she has to do it with her hands, she learns it here “kinesthetically” (she uses the word herself, without my prompting it), rather than solely linguistically (again, her term). At her home school it is all lectures and words.
The 68 of us are now here in the lab, two adjacent labs– it feels a little bit more crowded here, but not at all impossibly so. Working in groups of three (good practice, perfect group size), they are working at one of three stations: blood, urine, or stool. I am at the stool table; we are analyzing the stool, trying with some urgency to determine Billy’s illness. The stool must be compared to the negative and positive control samples; they are pouring water through the stool into a beaker, and testing the ph. of the beakers. Time to trade stations (time is not going slowly, this place is hopping), and some groups are lagging a bit– the teacher calls out “this is what happens in a hospital, people; the doctor comes into the lab and says ‘we need these results stat, people!'” I have been really interested in reading in the brain research about how stress diminishes learning, in large amounts, but a little bit of stress– time pressure, urgency, challenge– can enhance it.
Now are on to the blood– glucose testing to determine if the patient (“Billy”) is diabetic.
Here in the lab, the school’s vision statement is on display: “The CART vision is to create an environment where students learn to use their minds well, to apply what they learn in school to lifelong endeavors, to be technologically literate, and to develop the skills and self-confidence to succeed in the globally competitive workforce.”
The teacher also provided me what is called the “Biomedicine Matrix: Overview of Project Flow.” I immediately recognize the Understanding by Design (UbD) formatting, (I am currently enrolled in an on-line UbD course). The overarching questions, (and regular readers know I am always looking for framing, guiding, and essential questions), are “How healthy am I? How healthy is our community?” Different unit/projects are defined, each with a theme and an essential question: CPR: How do I assess health in a medical emergency? The Brain: How healthy am I as a learner? Medical Professions: What medical professions work to keep our community healthy? Genetic/Developmental health: What are the major genetic/developmental health issues in our community? Communicable disease: What are they in our community.
Onto the urine. Teacher tells me this is not at all normal– usually they split up the group in two, so this is much more crowded than usual, and so is crazy. I say they are doing beautifully, and she says they are great kids. She then says “you put scrubs on kids, and they start acting like they are doctors– it makes a huge difference. ”
The two teachers are constantly one the move, stepping with a hustle, checking on groups, answering questions, prodding them on. “How’s the poop doing?” one teacher calls out.
Spent the break talking to two of the teachers here– both very engaging, very proud of the school, very committed. The only school of its kind in the US, one teacher tells me, as he tours me around this spanking clean facility. Hanging from the ceilings are beautiful, gorgeous banners each displaying an inspirational figure and a two word phrase to go with them: Edison, Sandra Day O’Connor, others; I will write them up later.
As we walk, the teacher is a non-stop stream of telling me what they are changing, what they are starting, what they will be doing next year– the place seems constantly in motion. A new neural lab, a second anatomy lab. He tells me that there is some competition for the precious lab space, they need more, because sometimes he wakes up from a dream and realizes he has a new lab for the kids to do to learn the concept.
He tells me they use no bells, and that students come to recognize that if they are late, they miss out– it is their loss. Labs aren’t replicated–you miss it, you’ve missed it. We talk about integrating brain research in instruction, and he tells me I just missed the unit that biomed lab begins every year with, a unit on the brain, where they don’t just learn the anatomy, but really focus a lot on how the brain learns, and the kids become much more self-aware of themselves as learners (Jackie had also told me excitedly about the brain anatomy lab, and the actual sheep and human brains they got to observe).
After the break, class is opened by the science specialist teacher, writing lecture notes on a smart board, explaining how the lab we are about to do will work– a lab about “blood, poop, and pee,”– so she is presenting how to measure hyper and hypo-osmotic. And now we are headed to the lab.
I am talking now to “Jackie” (not real name), my “ambassador” for the day; the ambassadors are selected by teachers.
She tells me “I like coming CART because they really respect you and treat you like adults. At my other, regular high school– they look at us like we are just teenagers, and when people usually think teenagers, they think irresponsible, we are all the same person, we are all just adolescents. But here it is a professional environment, and you get the feeling right when you walk in. Dressing in scrubs for our biomedical lab, we feel like we are really people at work. The technology here at CART, we get to use it like every day; our “home schools”– the regular schools attended the other half of the day, either don’t have the technology or we don’t get to use it because they’re afraid we’ll break it. “
Last year Jackie was in a different “lab,” Multimedia– graphic and web-design. In that program, the students made websites and logos. They made radio commercials and a movie; they actually worked with businesses. For example, they made a logo for google, and helped an agricultural company make a logo for them, and the company is now using one student’s design. For that lab, the students didn’t dress in scrubs, of course, but every Friday they had a meeting for which they had to dress professionally.
Jackie’s ambition is to be a neonatal intensive care nurse; she will be the first in her family to go to college.
Each student has their own laptop for the time they are here at school (the laptops stay here, and the a.m. students share with the p.m. students). Right now, as Jackie and I speak, the teacher is having the students use their laptops to locate nursing and medical colleges in California, and identify and record their admissions requirements. As I watch, a baggy pants wearing male student approaches the teacher to ask “Do you have to become an RN first in order to become a cardiac nurse?” They proceed to have a good and informative conversation about that career path.
I drove to CART from Martinez this morning; it is here in Clovis, right next to Fresno, to visit here at a charter high school jointly associated with Fresno and Clovis. The school was featured in a very interesting article written by teachers here published last spring in ASCD’s Educational Leadership, the issue on Reshaping High Schools. More on that article later. (If you are reading along: I am posting hourly or so, and know that in liveblogging, the chronology goes from bottom to top.)
Beautiful entrance lobby, great open space, soaring ceiling, skylights. 700 kids streaming in with positive affects at 730 in the morning.
I am spending the morning in a bio–medical lab program; the kids will be in this class for three hours, 730 to 1030, before returning to their regular high schools for afternoon classes. There are maybe 60 students in this large, modernly furnished, attractive space; the room feels full but not crowded. The teacher, 1 of 3 in the room, dressed in medical scrubs, which is great– sets a tone, models a working environment. Looking around the room, maybe a third of the students are wearing scrubs too.
Teacher opens asking the students at table to provide their hypothesis for the illness suffered by the student in yesterday’s case study– an emotional story of a sick child, with many symptoms present. Yesterday, apparently, they had discussed the case in groups, and now he was asking them to offer a theory, and defend it. Infectious disease? Food Poisoning? Anyone ever had food poisoning? What was that like? Connect to personal lives. Ideas are ventured, and the teacher asks them to defend with supporting details.
Next we watch 10 minutes from a very compelling episode of House, projected digitally. The scene is of a high school student in class, getting ill– really connecting to these kids and their lives, emotionally grabbing them. Why is he ill? As House and his team frantically seek the answer to his illness, so now do the students. I think this use of TV drama is just great– not for an hour, not even thirty minutes, but 5 or 10– very effective for engaging and emotionally motivating students– I know I enjoy it.
Handouts are provided, and now the kids are working themselves, quietly but focused. Teacher is circulating, checking in with groups, but mostly they are self-directed, not needing much prodding or prompting. No droopy eyes here, not much yawning– they have a purpose, to solve this mystery.
I speak to the teacher, the one wearing scrubs. He is an English teacher, he tells me (I am a bit surprised). The kids get English credit, and other credits, for this class— so he is leading them in a class exercise in reading the medical mystery, critically thinking about it, and writing about it. He has distributed a handout that is a graphic organizer for the kids thoughts on the source of the illness.
The students now, table by table, venture a second diagnosis, refined from the first. He encourages them to think differently– not be afraid to disagree with each others- urges them to think outside of the box. As they offer answers, he keeps asking them “and why?” When the answers begin converging, lots of consensus growing around one answer, the teacher pushes back– “let’s have someone offer a counter-argument, let’s have someone argue against this.”