Today was a staff day at High Tech High and our staff was doing external observations throughout San Diego. Some faculty went to private schools, some charters, some public. After initially signing up to visit La Jolla Country Day (a very expensive private school) – I noticed that our official tour there was only an hour long. The limited duration – compounded with the fact that I taught summer school there a few years ago and was scared of northbound traffic – led me to switch last minute to visiting our own High Tech High Chula Vista campus. My colleague Jade (12th grade math) took me up on carpool offer and we met our colleague Adam (9th grade math) down there. While I haven’t completely processed my observations, I wanted to scribble down a few notes and thoughts before the moment passed. Any comparisons between Chula Vista and Point Loma are just meant to frame my personal context. As such …
The Space (HTHCV)
I noticed that a lot of the common spaces were purpose oriented. Where our own High Tech High Point Loma may have lounge chairs and cushy seats, HTHCV had varied functional work surfaces and sometimes even common tools. At HTH we sometimes struggle with inappropriate use of common spaces (i.e. general “hanging out” and not actual work) and this clear purposeful space made me wonder if they have similar issues or if the spaces are generally used better.
I had forgotten how beautiful the physical building at High Tech High Chula Vista is. It’s on the edge of town with a seemingly limitless backdrop of green rolling hills. The building also house a few indoor/outdoor atrium-like spaces and all common spaces are functionally open-air. This was fantastic … but also resulted in experiencing our very first indoor thunderstorm. I also noticed that many of the rooms seemed to have their own micro-climate too (or I’m having hot flashes). One thing that we all commented on was the integration of these schools into their surrounding space. A garden, chickens, outdoor projects, archery range – all things that blurred the line between school and nature. At HTH we have a very rigid line and sometimes struggle with exterior spaces (home owners association, gardens, etc.).
While I can’t quite put my finger on it – HTHCV felt different than other HTH schools. In a good way I think. Some anecdotal observations include:
- In the ninety minutes we spent at this school there were almost zero students outside of class. The few we did see looked focused and purposeful. At HTH, we are often chasing stragglers and ushering kiddos to class.
- My gut tells me that it felt rigorous. Students all seemed to be genuinely engaged. I have no evidence for this – just gut.
- The projects adorning the wall were awesome. High quality presentation. Well curated.
Read this part with a grain of salt. I was curious how they dealt with issues we face at HTH so I probed some students and teachers:
- Students were all dressed conservatively. Given, it was a cold day, but there seemed to be a consistent dress code. I probed a number of students about this and they shared that the dean does morning rounds to enforce. I asked if it’s ever an issue and when they mentioned that some students “toe the line”, I pressed further to see what that meant. Turns out wearing a hoodie is “toeing the line”. “Toeing the line” at HTH looks very different …
- I asked a number of kids about internet speed, reliability, etc. They said that it slows down sometimes but that outages are very rare. When I told them that our internet fails completely three or so times a month they were very surprised. Also noticed some classes had near 1:1 computers … envy …
HTHCV Shout Outs
Mark Poole. Mark is in the middle of a very ambitious project building a huge mechanical-musical-kinetic-bikey-thing. Looked very cool and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
Paul Mendricks. Jade, Adam, and I had a nice long chat with Paul. He seems like a great guy. We chatted about the advantages/disadvantages of pull-out math, shared our thoughts about the increased need for mentorship at our schools (especially for interns), and commiserated on usual teaching stuff. He seems like a guy I’d love to work with.
Mackenzie. Biology + Coding = Awesome.
Laszlo. Holy moly – he has a lot of kids on his team. And they’re leveraging it to do a series of awesome-enormous MUN conferences. Go team.
… we also stopped at the middle school and elementary …
The K8 seemed to be overflowing with engineering and making! We saw a number of impressive things:
- Zoe Randall. She somehow teaches every grade (K, 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5!). Her elementary students were doing things that my 9th graders so – at a similar level. Programming, robotics, electronics. How I would love to have those kids in a few years. Blew my mind. I’ve also seen their work exhibited at Tech 2 Reconnect (San Diego Zoo), and the STEAM Maker Fest (Del Mar). My favorite part: one of her kids using the word crevasse in a sentence (with the pronunciation/accent of Sean Connery).
- Alicia. I envy her organization. Her project is cool too. Programming Lego MindStorms + 3D Design + 3D printing in middle school. Bravo.
- Edrick, Kyle, Ann, Charley. I only had time to get a gist of the project but it seems cool and the scope is ambitious. The students we talked to all had a clear vision of their process, where it was going to be on permanent exhibition at school, and how their work tied into the whole.
That’s all folks. Would love to chat more about any or all of these observations!