Here today at a brand new high school, the facility having only opened weeks ago, in Las Vegas, NV. Well funded, the Adelson School is a K-12 with three divisions, and is headed by an old friend Paul Schiffman. He was given great support in building a new Jewish middle school and high school to complement a long-standing Jewish elementary school.
We enjoy a very nice lunch in the school’s cafeteria, which is bathed in warm red and yellow earth tones. The seating includes some arrangements in which there are two comfortable couch-benches, creating a restaurant-like booth which is very appealing. It being Friday, students are in their most formal uniforms, which include jacket and tie for boys, blouse, plaid skirt and ties for girls. The school-head tells me the kids love the uniform, they really like feeling grown-up and more official in them. The lunch program is nice and good quality; the Headmaster, Paul, is proud that the lunch fee is integrated into tuition, available always to all kids, and supports their nutrition and energy needs– kids can always go back for more he told the admissions tour! At the same time, he also emphasized the school’s commitment to physical fitness, and that every student has physical education every day. I think this is so important– PE in the US keeps being cut and cut, all over, and it so important to resist that trend.
After lunch, I come here for Chemistry class, which is being covered by the Upper School Head in the wake of a tragic death of the school’s high school science teacher. The head told me of how he handled the teacher’s sudden illness, swift decline, and passing: by being completely honest with the kids, disclosing everything, keeping them involved. Then, when he died, the students themselves organized the service, with warm and moving testimonials. Very impressive, this is a wonderful and meaning example of authentic “learning-by-doing” by these kids, organizing that service.
In class, our teacher is lecturing on the chemical elements, and students are taking notes; the teacher is emphasizing the care with which they should be note-taking. After demonstrating how to analyze magnesium and its un-ionized and ionized forms, and its oxidation number, the students then are asked to do the same for lithium and others. One asks the teacher to do more of them, but he says no: I want you to do the thinking here. But then as they start, he goes and gives the student who asked for more instruction a nice one-to-one explanation, pressing her to think through the complexity, but with complete and close support.
Later, he asks students to consider whether OH is ionic or covalent: there is much uncertainty, and so he asks students to vote for which they think it is, and then invites students to defend their reasoning. Now he is presenting a diagram on the board, so students can better visualize why it is covalent.
On to Physics, but before it begins I speak with two juniors about their Adelson experience. They tell me they like how small it is here, and that it feels like a family, the opposite of the feeling at the large public high schools. I ask them about what their most challenging assignment has been, and after a moment’s thought, they tell me about a wonderful English assignment last year. The course centered on freedom and determinism, and the students used this thematic lens to study many readings, (“Hemingway was very much a determinist,” one girl states very authoritatively to me). Then, they were assigned in pairs to create a movie of their own which told a story exemplifying these themes; “we took a famous fairy tale and turned it on its head,” one student explains, with a great sense of energy and pride of ownership in the project. Then, they had to do extensive journaling about their film, writing about it in the same way they had done about their course readings, and they had to write a joint, six page paper analyzing their own film’s themes and symbols. Because one student had already left for Israel before it was completed, she “had to email in my chunks.” I love this assignment: collaborative, multi-media, personally relevant, creative and innovative.
Physics class begins: we open with a 30 minute lecture on velocity, with a lot of whiteboard explanations and calculations. There is then a brief discussion of a rubber band shooting experiment the students had done, and they discussed why there might have been some outlier data– with some nice speculation on the influence of different variables. He then returns to the whiteboard for a lengthy explication of another trajectory problem. We speak briefly as class is ending; he is glad that the lab equipment is arriving, and looks forward to running many more student labs in the fall.