“The best schools,” Grodd told me later, “are able to make learning cool, so the cool kids are the ones who get As. That’s an art.” The notion itself seems incredibly daunting—until you look at one maligned subculture in which the smartest members are also the most popular: the geeks. If you want to reform schools, you’ve got to make them geekier.
Our school here in Tucson is all about the whole child, and celebrates the artists and the athletes, and it celebrates the “nerds” too– it is not a social Siberia for lovers of computers or science fiction. But there are still steps we can and should take to do more to put student learning front and center, as they are doing at one of my favorite high schools, High Tech High:
“Geeks get things done. They’re possessed. They can’t help themselves,” says Larry Rosenstock, founding principal of eight charter schools in San Diego County collectively called High Tech High. He has come up with a curriculum that forces kids to embrace their inner geek by pushing them to create. The walls, desks, and ceilings of his classrooms teem with projects, from field guides on local wildlife to human-powered submarines. (A High Tech High art project called Calculicious, based entirely on math principles, now hangs in the San Diego airport.)
The students all work in small groups as a way to foster shared enthusiasm: Get two kids excited about something and it’s harder for a third to poke fun at them. But more important, Rosenstock keeps the students surrounded by adults. And the students are required to present their work to outsiders. This, it turns out, is the key to geekifying education.
Leaping out the largest is the sentence I placed in bold: we need to have the artifacts of vigorous student learning on display, everywhere, and we are working toward this.
I also want to highlight the importance of adults in school culture, something already strong here, and something we are working to strengthen further with our course of developing a new advisory system.