In a political climate where politicians’ are pushing to increase class sizes, some schools are earning a gleaming reputation for pushing back against the norm and keeping classes small.
We are in a time of flux with standardised tests, the debate as to whether the pressure from GCSE's and SAT's are too disruptive to pupil mental health are ongoing. Meanwhile the same non-conformist schools have thrown out exams all together. Where the modern day school system demands uniformity, California based High Tech High asks their pupils not to wear a uniform.
‘We have been very intentional at High Tech High about keeping our class sizes, team sizes and school sizes small...This allows us to build that sense of community and collaboration.’
Subject of a 2018 documentary "Most Likely to Succeed" High Tech High is a school proactively doing things differently. A place where pupils tend to be separated by what they are learning rather than their age group. A place where subject boundaries are fluid and are often taught simultaneously by focusing on project based learning. For example Physics and Art are conceivably one of the most unlikely pairings which result in life size Escher styled staircases which seemingly go nowhere being hand crafted and displayed by pupils. Science projects merge with environmental to see students measuring the local waterways and feeding their data into larger scope university projects.
By stark contrast to the Escher staircases this Montessori style school in California has pupils who certainly go somewhere as 95% of its students enter university education. The schools two month long internships that every student undertakes sees them experiencing tech companies, art museums and fertility clinics as part of their personal development. One student was quoted as saying "‘it was such a powerful experience, It’s made me realise I want to work in midwifery.’
Surprisingly High Tech High is a state funded charter school like the UK's free schools. It doesn’t discriminate on who gets to join. The classes boast SEN pupils and financially disadvantaged kids in relatively high percentages.
As we wrote about in our article on the Finnish school system. It seems that an ethos and culture innately embedded in a schools DNA can instil into pupils a desire and love of learning. This seems to translate into better results and more well-rounded successful individuals.
The culture of High Tech High is a flagship concept in new wave schooling. Envisioned by Educational leader Larry Rosenstock, Silicon Valley tech billionaire Irwin Jacobs and a team of civic heads and teachers who sought to redesign the entire system with notions of deep learning and holistic development at its core.
‘In our maths class, the teacher explains a concept. Then we all must go away and use this concept to create our own problem and solution – and then come back and teach the rest of the class. It’s a really powerful way to learn. And sometimes it’s easier to understand from your peers than a teacher.’
The school is visited by 5000 influencers and educators every year seeing celebrity visitors such as Oprah Winfrey and Bill gates through its doors. The pupils this type of free range education is spawning are confident, critical thinkers whose maturity and collaborative skills have been cultivated through constant collaborate activity in teams.
Their creativity is nurtured and given as much importance as the basic fundamentals such as English and Maths. This core subjects are mandatory but the options to venture into coding, language, politics, engineering and environment are there.
The landscape is changing and it seems Britain may be getting left behind in an outdated and regressive methodology. There are still some UK schools adopting new ideas and undertaking Dead Poets Society style mentoring but they are amongst the few not the plenty.
High Tech High students working on a robotics project.
The quality and style of international education is shifting towards pupil-centric ideals. Soon it's likely the face of schooling will have a new look. One not designed to produce workers for the factories, subservient and hardworking but instead, free thinkers with diverse critical thinking skills who are better equipped to take on the challenges being presented by the digital age.
Where do you stand on this new type of schooling? Would it work in the UK? Does your school embrace change? Let us know in the comments or on our social media channels.
Schools wishing to trial standing desks as part of their own new wave thinking can trial them here: Schools Student Standing Desk Trial