Good morning, and welcome to School visit 16, today at a charter high school in San Francisco, Metropolitan Arts and Technology High School, or just Metro. Metro is a part of the Envision network of schools, which have four sites now in the Bay Area, and whose schools are based on project-based learning. I am live-blogging, so this runs chronologically from bottom to top, with each new entry headed by the time it was posted.
December 4, 2008
Live-Blogging Metro High School (SF), an Envision SchoolPosted by Jonathan Martin under General
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Finished the afternoon with a long, 100 minute conversation with one of Envision’s key administrators, Kyle Hartung, who has in a short period of four years been a teacher, school director, and now organization leader. He told me a lot more about Envision’s structure and philosophy, and cited the value of its connection with Stanford’s School Redesign Network, something I should learn a lot more about– a brainchild, it seems, of the always excellent Linda Darling-Hammond, who should be a strong Education Secretary contender for the new administration. He also took pains to explain the critical flowchart-model of the Envision approach, which is to begin instructional design with well defined, top-notch, performance assessments, and then go backwards (as in Wiggins) to design project based learning experiences to get kids to these performances.
To get a better flavor of what this means in practice, he directed me to The Envision Project Exchange, which is an offshoot of the school network that I had not at first seen when trolling the Envision Schools website. It is a nice piece of work, this site and its curricular demonstrations, and when you dive deeper into the site, looking at sample curricula, you can see more about the standards the projects teach to, and the assessments they use for the performance assessments.
Kyle also directed me to to two fine graduating student portfolios, making the very reasonable point that we can in part evaluate schools by the work of their graduates. Here is one and two.
Kyle and I had a wide-ranging discussion about these and many other topics; I appreciate his time and thoughtfulness. He offered me a book suggestion, which I am ordering promptly and passing along– Ron Berger’s An Ethic of Excellence: Building a Culture of Craftsmanship in Schools.
Liz’s Math class has a sub today– they are watching a video and working on a project– so I jump over to the Politics/Government class taught by Justin– the class/teacher which generated the Election Exhibit. Our teacher begins with a quick overview of the day, and asks students to get the right stuff out, and put backpacks away, and “put your game face on.” Justin hands out a document with a Heart of Darkness writing assignment, with some very good questions requiring student critical thinking. I always like assignments asking students to enter an political discourse, take a position, and defend it– (as Graff says we must teach argumentation explicitly in order to orient students into academic discourse)– and the topic I like best here asks about Marlow’s Worldview, and has students choose one of the following: “Do you think Marlow is racist and Anti-African? OR Do you think Marlow is speaking out against the treatment of Africans by Europeans? Does Marlow represent someone who is more enlightened? Does he have a more progressive view of humanity? “
Taking a look at Justin’s very nice, impressive, online syllabus now, I love to see that he establishes at its top “Our Essential Question: What does it mean to be a modern human being, living in a modern world?” It is beautifully Wigginsian, it establishes an underlying theme that can be returned to again and again in their studies for comparison, and it is real, it is relevant, it is something adolescents forming identities should really be able to relate to. It is fleshed out just a bit more, to say we are learning about “who we are, where we have been, and where we are going as human beings?” The syllabus also nicely establishes clear and comprehensive skills and knowledge goals, and provides a terrific reading list.
Class begins with our teacher giving a ten minute explanation of how to use quotes effectively in expository writing– (and his online page on this is very nice), and then, keying off of a digitally projected computer slide, asks students to write in their journals a short piece incorporating and responding to a provided quotation from Conrad. He offers good advice– you may not need to use all of the quote, but only select parts of it, “always be economical”– and our students are pretty focussed here on their writing piece, as he moves around the room, checkin on each individually. Students having completed their pieces, they are asked to “table-share” what they have written, and he coaches them on how to give good feedback.
During lunchtime here, I attend the Student Leadership Council (SLC) meeting with “Liz.”
A long and detailed agenda is provided, and we begin with the reading of a letter from a facilitator, and then go around the table for “check-in.” There is a rich discussion here of how to start a new club, as one visiting student seeks to start a dance club. The group of about 10 students is being advised by one teacher, and the students are nicely asserting their own leadership. At check-in, one 12th grade speaks about the pressure of college applications, and that they are due in a month’s time! One of our leaders here speaks of an idea to go as a group soon to serve at a soup-kitchen, and there is warm enthusiasm here for an SLC event, building the group bond.
The regular part of the meeting begins, and the leader here works with the group to assign roles of facilitator, co-facilitator, notetaker, process observer, sergeant at arms. The first formal committee report begins on the topic of launching a new mentorship program, tentatively being called “senior buddies” to support the mentorship of freshmen by seniors. After a quick report, the group peppers the presenter with good questions about, for instance, the process of matching seniors to freshmen, and about how to handle those students who will not want to participate, and how to focus the project on those students who will really benefit. As the presentation concludes, careful attention is given to defining action-items.
Onto the next item– teacher-candidate interviews, and members are invited to join in on tomorrow’s interview of a science teaching candidate. A quick discussion breaks out about what are good questions to ask prospective teachers, and the one which generates the most enthusiasm is this: “Do you like teenagers?” The kids remember one candidate who answered this question “really weirdly,” indicating that maybe he did not, and, apparently, he was not hired.
Our group moves on with great gravity to planning the prom, and issues with prom sites. Winter dance planning is also underway here, and students are seeking to work with other schools on a jointly sponsored event. A planned winter festival is discussed, and ideas for it are generated including jumpy houses, pie eating contests, etc. Some ideas are drawn from private school events, (like at Drew or Waldorf, they say), but great concern is thoughtfully and sensitively expressed that the students here don’t have the money they do at those other schools, and so we can’t charge here 50cents for jumping in a jumpy house. (“But I WANT to jump!” says one).
During this long session our teacher adviser is almost entirely silent, even leaving the room for several minutes, which I appreciate, this deference to student leadership. Our next topic is the problem of the lunch lines, their length and cutting in line. It is a very serious topic for these kids, and they are grappling with the concerns of staffing the lines, whether two lines can be maintained, and other related concerns.
And onto comments received in a comment box, a very small number of which anonymously expressed obnoxious and derogatory remarks– which this group takes very seriously. Ideas are generated about whether and where to move the comment box, and then onto how to better educate the community on bigotry against gays. Students suggest an assembly, a serious one (with no texting allowed! someone says), where the values of the school are really emphasized, and one student eloquently emphasizes that this school, Metro, is a school where respect and tolerance and diversity are very important, “it is why we come to Metro, and why we love Metro.”
Our process observer reports as the session ends that there still needs to be more respect for the speaker, and we need to watch for “ranting.”
Spanish class. Very vibrant in here, student work on all walls, very colorful and busy. One board displays student-made posters advocating political positions for the recent elections, en espanol. Reading, analogies, vocabulary is the agenda for today, our teacher tells us as class starts. Liz provides me a copy of the course objectives, which is a list of concepts to be learned month by month. There is also a list of cultural themes, such as Macchu Picchu, De Compras, and El Mercado.
First up today, two students present a poster with a cartoon displaying in a series of panels a day in the life of two students in a Spanish class. They are enjoying themselves presenting, with lots of laughter. Relatively small classes here at Metro– about 18 in this Spanish class. (Compare to 60, with 4 teachers, at CART and 30+, with two teachers, at NTHS).
Students now take a textbook from the center of the table. Students are asked to look at the pictures, and then write about what they think they are going to be reading about. Students volunteer in English and Spanish terms likes weather/tiempo, and landscapes/paisaje. The teacher reads the passage herself first, and then asks students to read the same passage.
After the read-aloud reading, the teacher asks students individually to categorize the words in the passage into Cognados (cognates), Verbos (verbs), Conocidas (familiar), and Desconocidas (unfamiliar). Students at my table are doing the task- and also multi-tasking; one student asks another to text message a friend to tell him to go onto facebook to chat with her, which she is doing at her seat throughout the period on her iphone or itouch.
Our teacher now facilitates students providing work examples for each of the four categories, and fills out her chart pretty quickly. Next, she provides her students what she calls logographic clues, images she draws which she suggests students can use to better remember words, and explains this multi-modal technique might help visual learners better master their vocabulary. And back to the textbook; students are asked in table groups to review statements and determine if they are true or false. After reviewing the T/F as a class, the teacher has students move on to the comprehension questions, which she says students can find in the text. They are doing this at my table as a group, usually by translating the questions into English and then talking about the answers. One student calls out that this is too hard, and the teacher comes right over to help.
Envision Schools’ site, founded in 2002, speaks of their motivation to combat high school drop-out; 7000 high school students drop out every day, their site says, and it is their purpose here to provide the kind of secondary schooling which combats that. I think this can be a powerful driver for school design– the purpose of making each and every school day relevant, pertinent, meaningful, fulfilling, engaging, rewarding enough such that each student REALLY wants to come back the next day, and resist the siren call of the diverting life of the neighborhood. It is a tall order– but it can “drive” a school vigorously in the right direction of providing true purpose for their students.
Up next here in Spanish is a task, a project, for students to create analogies; she has provided some 7 or 8 prompts, such as “symbol and what it stands for” with the example being “rose: love.” The student next to me is writing on his poster board (this room being colorfully festooned with student posters) “An individual is to a revolution as the stroke of a brush is to a mural.” Others are “Cause is to Revolution as Inspiration is to Art,” and “Weapons are to War as Friendship is to Love.”
School is starting now at 9:10 am (it runs out to 3:40), which, like I was just writing about at Redwood Day, is really respectful of the sleep schedule of teenagers. First class is Advanced Art. Our teacher for this 90 minute block period is setting out expectations for the day, and inviting ideas from students on doing a so-called “collaboration” page for their art project. My student for shadowing today, who has a very cool name I wish I could use (she tells me the same, that her name is very cool), we will call instead Liz– greeted me at 8:40 and gave me a very nice tour of the roughly ten classrooms on a rectangular floor plan on the bottom floor of a large public high school. She is proud of her school, and tells me it has had three sites in three years. She normally takes a before-school morning drop-in African drumming workshop, which she missed this morning in order to tour me.
In Art, Liz shows me the book she is working on for this project, which is to re-fashion an old book in ways which represent her identity. She has painted in it, written provocative quotes, and cut out a whole in it hold a bottle which contains her six word memoir (“is my experience worth six words?”).
Liz explains to me that for collaboration pages, you invite someone else who you know to add something to your creation, letting a little bit of another person into your self-identity. Liz is going to incorporate self-portraits (“totally hilarious”) of her friends into her book, and then write about their impact on her life. As in most art classes I have visited, the mood here is good, and students are nicely balancing their concentration on their art with their casual conversation and laughter with classmates (much like the workplace environments most adults prefer).
I asked Liz why she chose Metro: “I definitely knew I didn’t want to go to a big school, it seemed like my friends lost their identity at big high schools, and I wanted to know my teachers. Metro offered art and technology, two of my favorite things, and I visited the school during ‘exhibitions’ and I liked the people here, they were my kind of people. At Lowell, the academic magnet school, people seemed overly academic, and I wanted well rounded people, people passionate about their interests, not just about getting good grades. It is more diverse here, and people are strange, and people are free to be themselves.”
The teacher here gives me a syllabus to look at, which explains this is both a fine arts and an art history course, interdisciplinary. It explains that students will be expected to master a specific set of studio techniques, and will have a great deal of written work as well, including a major research paper about an artist. There is also a rubric for work ethic and leadership, carefully laid out, explaining to students the particular behaviors they should manifest to earn an A, B, or C.
I was introduced to Envision schools by an associate of mine who is Research Director at the Buck Institute, which does research on project-based learning. My friend, Jason Ravitz, suggested that great teaching and learning was happening here. The pbl approach culminates, as it should, in exhibitions, and the school here recently presented an exhibition on election eve. Local TV covered the event here. The exhibitions were produced in a social studies class which Liz is very passionate about, Government and Politics, in which students created and produced their own TV ads about various issues. For “Liz’s” ad, see it here. Nice use of technology, nice culminating exhibit, nice key-in to current events with relevancy to these students.
Anna, the art teacher here, tells me of the journey that brought here to Envision schools. She previously taught at Eagle Rock School in Colorado, about which she is very passionate for its outstanding experiential education. While there, she learned that a previous administrator at Eagle Rock was a founding principal here at Envision, and that brought her here. She strongly advises me to visit Eagle Rock if I get a chance, and tells me it has an outstanding professional development center too.
Anna goes on to tell me what she likes about working here, including that it is small, she really gets to know other teachers and collaborate with them, and that she can really participate in the decision-making at the school– she seems to feel very vested in it. She likes the interdisciplinary commitments here too: “Art is connected to other disciplines,” she says, and gives an example of the political exhibitions, and tells me here in art they learned to do editorial cartooning as an extension of the politics they were doing there.