Over the past month Innovation Unit has been enjoying being host to two teachers visiting from High Tech High in California. High Tech High is a group of 11 schools in the San Diego area, including an elementary, middle and high schools. High Tech High schools are public charter schools with an open intake, but have a 100% college acceptance rate and Academic Performance Index rankings amongst the highest in the state of California. Most importantly, they achieve all of this through project-based learning, preparing their students to be creative, self-motivated learners. In the blog below, High Tech High teacher Cady Staff reflects on her visit to England, and touches on how she and her colleague will be working with Innovation Unit and a select group of schools from January to develop high quality project-based learning in the U.K.
I have just returned from a three-week traveling, presenting, eye-opening, exhausting and inspiring study trip around England. I have been teaching for nine years, the last seven years at High Tech High (a project-based learning family of schools in San Diego). During the past three weeks, we took the design principles and some of our most successful practices from High Tech High on the road to schools interested in pursuing aspects of project-based learning at their schools. Normally, I teach eighth graders (13 and 14 year olds) history and English, and I was traveling with Chris Wakefield, a talented maths and science 9th grade teacher from High Tech High. It was a trip both of us will never forget.
Chris and I landed on a Sunday at Heathrow Airport, met up with people from the Innovation Unit at a delicious curry restaurant, took a touristy photo at Platform 9 and ¾ (I am a HUGE Harry Potter fan) and prepared for our journey. This was to be the first trip to the UK for the both of us.
That first week, we visited Yewlands Technology College in Sheffield, Balby Carr Community Sports College near Doncaster, The Education Village in Darlington, St. Robert of Newminster in Durham and finally Strood Academy on Friday (for me, while Chris headed up to Park View in Chester-Le-Street and Cramlington Learning Village near Newcastle). The second week, Chris and I visited schools on our own after our shared Monday visit to University Academy Liverpool. Then, I traveled to Orminston Bolingbroke Academy in Runcorn, visited with teachers from Matthew Moss in Rochdale, spent time at Dixons Allerton Academy in Bradford, observed two days at Atherton Community School, a new free school sponsored by Chapel St, worked with some of the inspiring staff at Manchester Academy, and ended the week at Voyager Academy in Peterborough. The final week began with a visit to Goole High School, an observation day at Thomas Ferens in Hull and a presentation at Denes High School in Lowestoft on Wednesday for me; and it ended when Chris and I reunited to meet with the Wapping High School staff on Thursday and visit School 21 in London the morning before jumping on the Underground to catch a plane from Heathrow that last afternoon.
It is hard to summarize or put into words what I learned and gained from visiting this collection of inspiring schools across the country. Going to museums, visiting pubs, eating at restaurants and street markets, taking pictures in front of landmarks, reading local literature and riding public transportation helped us to better understand and celebrate British culture. But visiting schools gave us glimpses into England’s future. What we saw was a beautiful, complicated and hopeful future. The schools we visited were driven by the pressures of GCSEs, inspired by the desire to educate the whole child, intrigued by the potential of project-based learning and open to new ideas of teaching and learning. They taught us what it means to be a ‘free school’ created by the needs and desires of the community; how becoming an ‘academy’ can transform a building space along with an educational outlook; how projects can help integrate refugees into the community; how pride in a community’s history can strengthen its future; that a new ‘learning commons’ can expand classroom walls and minds; how long-standing structures can be changed to make way for new ways of learning; and that students can be the designers of their 21st century learning spaces.
Chris and I will be returning to England soon to take up an internship with Innovation Unit for sixth months. We will be working together with educators in the north and south. We will share resources and teach and learn alongside some of the most innovative teachers and schools leaders in the UK. We are grateful to all of the schools and teachers who shared their work and passions with us, and opened their doors to Chris and me (sometimes, even the doors to their homes where we stayed the night) along our three-week journey. It was a journey we will never forget, and one that continues on our return to England coming soon…
by Cady Staff